FedEx cautioned last week that they will cancel an order to buy 30 airplanes from Boeing if Congress passes the Employee Free Choice Act. This triangular coercion does two things:

 

  1. It demonstrates just how fiercely adversarial the issue of “card-check” is. The Teamster’s President referred to FedEx executives as “cockroaches” in his response to their move.
  2. It shows us a new style of wielding influence in the political process.

 

The rivalry between the world’s two largest parcel carriers has long been a case study showing the success of “next-gen” employment practices being a superior alternative to unionization. At FedEx, less than 2% of employees are unionized (only the pilots). Meanwhile, over half of rival UPS’ employees are union. Therefore FedEx has been trumpeting this differentiator to employees, customers, and shareholders for years. Apparently, it’s working. FedEx stock has outperformed its main rival since UPS went public in 2001.

 

Terse exchanges between FedEx and pro-union leaders are not new. They’ve provided good comedy material each of the last 3 times a card-check bill has reached Congress. What’s different this time is the approach FedEx took. In the past, they’ve been successful with employees and union-neutral parties by saying, “look at us; we don’t need unions; we treat employees awesome; they love working here; everyone is paid fair and based on individual merit; it’s working now so why change.” This time, however, I’m worried that threatening to pull a $7B purchase order shows a new level of fear and trepidation. Perhaps it reduces them to the same “us-versus-them” mentality that unions have been promoting for decades. It may send a message that says we’re SO worried about the threat of open-ballot, that we’ll postpone growth to protect status-quo.

 

Maybe FedEx’s tactic will become the new face of “lobbying”. They are taking President Obama at his literal word about reducing the influence of lobbyists and special interests. Therefore instead of sending a Trojan horse of $1000/hour attorneys to Washington to persuade Congressional leaders against voting for EFCA, they will use this guerilla-like strategy instead.

 

I realize I’m opening a can of worms by mentioning card-check without debating the merits of the EFCA bill. Stay tuned…

 

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