THE BLOG
06/28/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

FedEx Drivers Aren't Pilots

Today the Teamsters are launching a campaign to remind the American public that people who drive trucks are not airline pilots.

You'd think we wouldn't need to explain the difference - that truck drivers' cruising level is about four feet off the ground, and pilots don't have to stop the plane to use the bathroom.

But FedEx Express is telling Congress that it's an airline. That's quite a pronouncement for a company that employs more than 90,000 truck drivers, sorters, loaders and unloaders (not pilots) who don't even touch an airplane.

We poke fun at FedEx on our new website FedExDriversAren'tPilots.com, for making this ridiculous claim. It will make you laugh.

But the Teamsters aren't laughing at FedEx's crude hostility toward union workers. FedEx Express pretends to be an airline because it wants to preserve the special favor it received from Congress 14 years ago.

In 1996, FedEx CEO Fred Smith lobbied for, and received, an exemption from the labor law that governs every other package delivery company in the United States.

As a result, FedEx Express is covered by a labor law that applies only to airlines and railroads. So even though FedEx Express drivers pick up and drop off packages exactly the same way as every other delivery driver in the United States, when it comes to labor relations, they are treated like airline pilots. Because of this, they face legal barriers to joining a local union.

The Teamsters don't think UPS or other package delivery companies should have to compete on an uneven playing field. We want FedEx to follow the same labor laws that every other package delivery company has to follow.

The House of Representatives has voted for a bill that would put FedEx Express under the proper labor laws. Its pilots and airplane mechanics would remain under Railway Labor Act, but the truck drivers, sorters, loaders and unloaders would properly be governed by the National Labor Relations Act.

FedEx has already spent $21 million lobbying Congress to keep its special privilege. It's also claiming that UPS is looking for a "Brown Bailout." Only in the "up is down" world of Washington could that even be considered plausible.

The House and Senate still have to resolve their differences over the bill, which would also provide essential funding for the aviation system. I am confident that members of both chambers understand that the person who hands them a package is not an airline pilot.