FedEx Ground drivers often face long hours, no benefits, and no control
over their work because the company claims they are independent
contractors. When drivers attempt to form unions to address their
working conditions, they face an arduous route. First, they must prove
they are employees, and not independent contractors who lack the
federally protected right to form a union. If they overcome that legal
obstacle, they have to go up against FedEx Ground’s sophisticated
To date, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has issued
complaints charging FedEx Ground with unlawful threats,
interrogation, bribery, soliciting grievances, creating the impression
that it was spying on workers’ union activities, and harassing,
isolating, and firing union supporters.
FedEx CEO Fred Smith told The Wall Street Journal in 1989, “I don't intend to recognize any unions at Federal Express.”
Read below to hear from workers who have first-hand experience with FedEx Ground’s aggressive unionbusting campaign, that frequently includes the following tactics:
Saturate terminals with anti-union propaganda
Once FedEx Ground gets word of workers’ organizing efforts, it saturates the terminal with anti-union propaganda:
- Dennis Lynch, a former driver at the Barrington, MA, terminal, recalls that once he and his fellow drivers petitioned to hold a union election, anti-union posters appeared everywhere, even in bathroom stalls.
- Rudy Trbovich attended an initial union meeting on a Friday, and by Monday, managers had plastered the Fairfield, NJ, terminal with posters.
- FedEx Ground also distributes anti-union videos to drivers, and according to a complaint filed by the NLRB, it even “coercively solicited employees to appear in an anti-union video.”
Send in managers to intimidate drivers
According to drivers, high-level management from all over the country descend upon the terminals where union organizing is rumored or underway to pressure drivers against the union:
- Donna Eickhorst, a union supporter in Northboro, MA, estimates that managers rode in her truck with her six times over the course of three weeks, although “service rides” typically occur only once a year.
- Dennis Lynch similarly recalled seeing managers “all over the terminal” once the union effort began.
- According to Rudy Trbovich, shortly after a union meeting, high-level management showed up and held a series of meetings with food for drivers at the end of the day.
Woo the drivers
FedEx Ground’s anti-union campaign also attempts to address the drivers’ grievances to dissuade them from voting for the union:
Cathy Curran, of the Wilmington, MA terminal, witnessed the company finally repay drivers for payments long overdue, remove an aggressive manager that drivers complained about, and reconfigure routes to help drivers with excessive workloads. Curran’s reaction to the company’s effort: “This is the best year I’ve ever worked for this company.”
- Dave McMahon recalled similar efforts at the Barrington terminal, as managers helped drivers load their trucks and took people out for steak dinners to sway them against the union. An NLRB complaint charged FedEx Ground with unlawfully soliciting drivers’ grievances and bribing drivers with the promise of benefits to discourage them from supporting this union effort.
Isolate, intimidate, and even terminate union supporters
Another element of FedEx’s anti-union campaign is to isolate, harass, and even fire union supporters.
Rudy Trbovich, a union supporter at the Fairfield terminal, believes “they let me go first because I was the big mouth of the terminal…and I think they thought I organized [the union effort].”
- Dennis Lynch was fired in March 2005 from the Barrington terminal. An NLRB complaint charged that FedEx Ground fired him in retaliation for his testimony at an NLRB hearing. He volunteered to stick his neck out and testify because he “knew there would be bloodshed,” and unlike the other drivers, he didn’t have a family to support. Dave McMahon, a fellow union supporter with three young children, had already been terminated shortly after a brief attempt to form a union at the Camden terminal.
- NLRB complaints charged that FedEx Ground illegally separated known union supporters from other drivers in loading areas to discourage union activity at the Northboro and Barrington terminals.
Bob Williams, another union supporter at the Northboro terminal, worked as a senior manager for FedEx in the late 1970s, and enjoyed working for the company. After retirement didn’t suit him, he went back to work as a driver. He quickly became frustrated, so he contacted the union. After he testified at an NLRB hearing to determine the drivers’ status as employees, he was fired.
Challenge election results and stymie negotiations
FedEx Ground also uses legal obstacles to stall union efforts:
- At the Wilmington terminal, despite the company’s anti-union campaign, drivers voted to form a union in October 2006. The company filed an objection to the election, asserting that the immigrant workers could not comprehend English and were misled by a sample ballot distributed by the union before the election. An Administrative Law Judge overruled the objection.
- Consistent with its strategy of delay, FedEx Ground appealed the judge’s ruling to the NLRB, which in June 2007 overruled the company’s objections and certified the union. Throwing the case back into the legal system, the company refused to bargain, forcing the union to file charges with the NLRB. According to driver Bill Gardner, FedEx Ground told drivers that they intend to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
Joseph B. White, “Federal Express's Plans for Handling Tiger International Merger Anger Pilots,” The Wall Street Journal,4 Aug.1989.
Cathy Curran, Donna Eickhorst, Bill Gardner, Dennis Lynch, Dave McMahon, Rudy Trbovich, and Bob Williams, personal interviews, by Erin Johansson, March 2007.
FedEx Home Delivery,1-CA-42984 et al,NLRB Region 1 Order Consolidating Cases,Consolidated Complaint and Notice of Hearing,30 Mar.2007 (Northboro,MA); FedEx Ground Package Systems,4-CA-3635 et al,NLRB Region 4 Order Consolidating Cases, Consolidated Complaint and Notice of Hearing,30 June 2006 (Barrington,NJ); FedEx Ground,22-CA-26894,NLRB Region 22 Complaint and Notice of Hearing,23 June 2006 (Fairfield,NJ).