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FedEx Ground: Bah humbug to workers


By Wade Henderson and, Guest columnists

Daily News Tribune - December 21, 2007

This month, FedEx Ground expects to shatter its holiday shipping and sales records. In fact, on one recent day the shipping giant projected it would move more than 10 million packages - its highest volume ever.

As far as moving packages is concerned, FedEx is Superman. But, when it comes to workers' rights, FedEx can be Scrooge, especially around the holiday season. While it's hardly "A Christmas Carol," the story of one FedEx Ground driver shows how the company needs to change its ways, by improving the treatment of its drivers and respecting their rights to form unions.

Just about two years ago, on December 21, 2005, FedEx Ground fired Bob Williams, a company veteran from Northboro, Massachusetts.

He'd been a senior manager at FedEx during the 1970s. In 2001, he went back to work with FedEx Ground first as a temporary driver then he became what FedEx calls an "independent contractor." A year later, a dump truck rolled over his truck, seriously injuring Williams. Although out of work for 15 months, as an "independent contractor," Williams was not eligible for workers' compensation.

Williams chose to return to the company he was loyal to in 2004. As an "independent contractor" he was closely supervised by FedEx and treated just like an employee. But he had to buy a truck and a uniform from the company. He even had to pay for the electronic scanner that FedEx used to track his whereabouts when he was on the job.

Classified as an independent contractor but micromanaged like a regular employee, Williams was one of 15,000 FedEx Ground drivers and millions of other workers throughout the country suffering from the worst of both worlds. Williams and his coworkers had no health insurance, no paid vacations, and weren't eligible for workers' compensation or unemployment. They also lacked any real autonomy at work and often faced grueling schedules of upwards of 60 hours of work a week.

In September 2005, Williams and his coworkers were assigned new managers who treated them even more harshly than their predecessors. So they opted to form a union with the Teamsters to try and improve their working conditions. After FedEx Ground denied that they were eligible for union representation because they were "independent contractors," the drivers went to the National Labor Relations Board for help, which ruled in their favor.

Yet in December 2005, after he suffered another injury on the job, FedEx Ground manufactured a reason to fire Williams. Soon, four other union supporters were also fired, and other drivers were told to stop supporting the union - or else. The National Labor Relations Board charged the company with illegally firing or discriminating against Williams and several other drivers for their union support, and the company recently paid over $250,000 to the drivers to settle the charges.

"In the old days of FedEx," Williams said, "It was 'people, service, profit."'

Now, it's 'profit, service, people."' Does FedEx deliver the rights and benefits that workers for a profitable company have earned? Bah humbug!

Wade Henderson is president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Mary Beth Maxwell is executive director of American Rights at Work.




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