FedEx bests UPS in lobbying skirmish

FedEx appears to have triumphed over UPS in a multimillion-dollar lobbying battle over a labor provision in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reauthorization bill.

A 230-word clause added to the FAA bill introduced in the last Congress would have brought FedEx under the same labor laws as UPS. The two shipping companies turned to K Street to duke it out over the provision. 

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The new version of the bill, which the Senate will consider on Wednesday, does not contain the labor clause. 

Proponents of the labor provision told The Hill that they were not giving up on passing it, though they admitted it would be much tougher to move it through the divided Congress. 

“We are not giving up on this. This has always been a long struggle. We can exercise patience,” said Fred McLuckie, legislative director for the Teamsters. “We have had allies call us about this and ask us how they can help. We just have to find the right way to get this done.”

“The stars are not aligned right now, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future,” said Kara Ross, a spokeswoman for UPS. “The fact that a UPS driver and a FedEx driver can arrive at your door to deliver a package but are governed under different labor laws is still a problem. It is a matter of fair competition.”

At stake was a measure that would have placed the shipping competitors under the same labor laws. The National Labor Relations Act covers UPS drivers, while the Railway Labor Act governs FedEx. It is harder to form a union and strike under the Railway Labor Act.

The labor provision has been cleared from the bill this year — along with other contentious measures, such as a passenger fee and the number of long-distance landing slots at Reagan National Airport — as Senate Democrats look to move the bill quickly under the banner of job creation.

FedEx is now on board with the FAA bill since it no longer contains the labor law change.

“The Senate bill is free of extraneous labor provisions, and we urge Congress to approve the bill as swiftly as possible,” said Maury Donahue, a spokeswoman for FedEx. “This legislation is long overdue and will result in much-needed air safety improvements and next-generation navigation systems, as well as the thousands of jobs that will be created by improving airport infrastructure.”

It was a different story two years ago, when former Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), then the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was able to add the labor provision to the FAA bill.

That led to a standoff with Senate Republicans like Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker of Tennessee, FedEx’s home state, who protested against including the provision in the legislation. In July of last year, the Senate ended up passing its own version of the FAA bill without the labor provision by a vote of 93-0.

FedEx launched a ferocious lobbying campaign against the labor measure. Soon after Oberstar added the measure to the FAA bill, the shipping company started a website, www.brownbailout.com, complete with YouTube ads that parodied UPS ads and said the measure would equal a politically toxic “bailout” for its competitor.

Consequently, FedEx’s lobbying spending spiked during the past two years, according to lobbying disclosure records. 

In 2009 and 2010, the company spent almost $42 million on lobbying, a total that includes its spending on the ad campaign targeting the provision. That dwarfs FedEx’s K Street expenditures for the prior Congress, when the company spent nearly $14.4 million on lobbying in 2007 and 2008. 

UPS was not in the same league with its lobbying spending, doling out more than $14 million in 2009 and 2010 together, according to records. The Teamsters spent even less, with close to $2.5 million geared toward lobbying during the past two years. 

UPS and the Teamsters do have supporters remaining in Congress, but Democrats’ loss of the House was a big blow to their cause. 

With hearings scheduled next week in the House for the FAA bill, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) has said he would only move the legislation without the provision. Labor groups are also missing their biggest champion since Oberstar, one of the longest-serving members of Congress, went down in defeat last November.

“There are other members who believe in this provision, but he probably was the strongest ally we could possibly have,” McLuckie, of the Teamsters, said about Oberstar. 

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) does support the measure, but the starting point for the FAA bill must be what passed the Senate last year, according to a committee aide. Rockefeller has said any changes to the bill can be made via amendments “through an open and transparent legislative process,” an aide said.

The Teamsters have discussed adding an amendment to the bill with lawmakers, but that path appears unlikely since they do not believe it could win the 60 votes to beat back a filibuster.

“We were close last year. We are not close with 53 Dems this year,” McLuckie said. “We are looking at other options down the road here.”