If 71 package handlers at the FedEx Ground warehouse in Brockton, Massachusetts, win the union election scheduled for August 3, it will be the first time ever for package handlers at the giant non-union shipper. They’re facing a fierce anti-union campaign.
A top issue is poverty wages; all the workers are part-time, starting at $10.50 an hour with a maximum wage of $14.50 after four years. “Since there’s no seniority,” said one worker, “personal friends of managers typically get the full-time jobs or promotions.”
He said workers have to load packages that include 150-pound engine blocks, working in trailers that go down to 2 degrees in the winter and 115 in the summer.
Brockton workers looking to unionize contacted Teamsters Local 653 and signed up 75 percent of their co-workers. They kept the union drive hidden from management for months.
FedEx fights tooth and nail at the legislative and judicial levels to keep unions out, defending its misuse of “independent contractor” status for their drivers at FedEx Ground, for example. The practice places them outside the protection of numerous labor and employment laws.
The Senate passed a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration bill last year that excluded a provision making it easier for FedEx workers to unionize.
The Teamsters and UPS had supported a bill that would level the playing field by putting FedEx under the same labor laws that cover UPS. Since the legislative failing, the International union has shifted its attention to FedEx over-the-road drivers in the freight division.
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The company has flown in its top union-busting executives to Brockton, to try to kill the union with a sudden kindness not known before. Ninety percent of workers are black, and all supervisors were white. Now the white supervisors have been replaced by nice African American managers; the workers have been treated to cookouts and finally offered some basic benefits.
One worker said, “Before the union drive we had no health insurance, no vacation time, no sick days, no paid holidays, and we worked with broken and dilapidated equipment.”
With the union drive came (worthless) health insurance that’s offered after a year and a half, one week of vacation time, paid holidays, and brand-new equipment, the worker said.
At the same time, managers spread misinformation about unions to whip up fears. According to the FedEx worker, managers are organizing hour-long meetings with human resources, “reading off anti-union fliers every single day.”
Management harps on initiation fees and fines. But workers say the local charges no initiation fees to the first group unionizing, and no member of Local 653 has ever been fined.
Workers say managers have been flown in from all over the country to help beat the union, including the Eastern Division VP, who told everyone that “we have ways to keep the Teamsters out.”
Simply quitting and finding a better job is not an option. Brockton has one of the highest unemployment rates in Massachusetts, and the job market is only getting worse.
A union would enable workers to bargain for living-wage jobs in Brockton. And a victory at FedEx—the Wal-Mart of the trucking industry—could inspire other young workers to stand up to their bosses.
Supporters are holding solidarity actions at FedEx Office store locations in Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, Minneapolis, Madison, and four locations in Washington state this Saturday.
This article was originally published on LaborNotes.org.