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UPS Employees Say They Were Forced to Lobby Against FedEx

UPS says that it paid for workers' time to write letters to Congress but that their efforts were "totally voluntary."
UPS says that it paid for workers' time to write letters to Congress but that their efforts were "totally voluntary." (By Daniel Acker -- Bloomberg)

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By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 7, 2009

In an increasingly bitter Washington battle between the nation's two largest shipping companies, some unionized UPS workers say they are being forced to write letters to their lawmakers in support of more stringent labor rules for arch rival FedEx.

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Officials with UPS and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents 240,000 UPS drivers, acknowledge that the company has paid for workers' time to pen many of the letters and has supplied the envelopes, paper and stamps needed to mail thousands of them to Congress. UPS spokesman Malcolm Berkley said the effort was "totally voluntary, and any allegations to the contrary are ridiculous."

But Internet sites dedicated to UPS-related discussions feature dozens of accounts from anonymous employees who in recent weeks have said they were forced to write the letters or felt they would be punished for not doing so. Such tactics could run afoul of both labor laws and lobbying disclosure requirements, according to legal experts.

Memphis-based FedEx and the office of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) also have received e-mails, telephone calls and letters from UPS employees alleging intimidation by the union or UPS supervisors, according to FedEx officials and an Alexander aide.

Scott Dennis, one of those who contacted FedEx by e-mail, said in an interview that he was working as a part-time loader at a UPS facility in Greensboro, N.C. last month when he says he was pulled into a room with other employees and told to write letters in support of the legislation. Instead, he said, he wrote a letter critical of government intervention and quit in disgust a week later.

"We were expected to toe the line," Dennis said.

The letter-writing campaign is part of a costly and often fierce legislative fight between UPS and FedEx, which together have spent nearly $10 million on federal lobbying in the first half of the year. The feud captures the prominence of mass mailings, Internet campaigns and other grass-roots efforts to catch the attention of Congress in high stakes disputes, even when they involve relatively arcane regulations.

The focus of the UPS-FedEx conflict is House legislation passed earlier this year that would make it easier to unionize FedEx's lucrative express-air operation, which is currently treated as an airline under labor rules that limit strikes and require unions to organize nationally rather than locally. UPS, by contrast, is treated as a trucking firm, allowing for easier union organizing.

UPS and the union are now concentrating on convincing the Senate to adopt the provision.

"We hope at the end of the day the Senate will see this as a simple issue of fairness," said Ken Hall, head of the Teamsters' package division.

FedEx has responded with an aggressive public-relations campaign of its own that includes a Web site, http://www.brownbailout.com, that mocks UPS as another wealthy corporation seeking a federal rescue. FedEx founder and chief executive Frederick W. Smith, who was mentioned last year as a potential Cabinet nominee by GOP presidential candidate John McCain (Ariz.), says the legislation would cripple his company by leaving it open to disruptive strikes.

"FedEx Express remains committed to putting our customers first and making sure Congress doesn't change the legal framework that is the basis on which FedEx Express created the air express industry," said company spokesman Maury Lane.


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