by: Alan Nolte
I am a 22 year employee of FedEx in Tucson and I have been driving trucks for about 15 of those years, working for an industrial company in a non-unionized workplace. I have done a lot of organizing over the years, was a member of the IWW a while back, and have attempted to start a union drive several times. A lot has changed since I first started working there. I would say those things wouldn’t be the case had we had a union.
I should first say that it’s extremely hard to start a union.
I work for FedEx Express, which is considered an airline. That means it’s regulated under the RLA, the Railway Labor Act. As a lot of you probably know, back in 2022 Biden forced the railway unions back to work and to accept the negotiated contract with the railroad employers, the Class 1 carriers. That could happen too, theoretically to, say, the FedEx Express pilots, since they are union. So Congress, theoretically, through the Railway Labor Act could force the pilots back to work. Or to accept the negotiations of a contract. Which is really just kind of a sad thing.
What does working at FedEx non-union look like for me over the years? Well, for example, in the year 2000 we had a traditional pension plan, which is something you would get if you worked for the post office or the state or local government, those kind of jobs. Or a unionized job like UPS. We had that kind of pension plan. After 2009, they eliminated that. And they started what’s called a “portable pension plan” which is much, much worse, and does not work as well over your lifetime. Your retirement lifetime. Essentially you get a bundle of money when you leave. They put money in an account and you just get what’s in there. And its a lot less than if you just got paid, let’s say $2 or $3,000 a month for the rest of your life.
Let me add one last thing about that. In the year 2020 FedEx eliminated all pension plans for future employees. And I can tell you it has had a dramatic effect on the workplace in the sense that we don’t have career employees anymore. We had a lot of people leave during COVID. We’ve lost a lot of career employees. We’ve lost a lot of the collected knowledge of people who have acquired skills for their jobs. Those people are kind of gone now. And we have a lot of new people who have to acquire a lot of skill sets to do their jobs entering. Recently, I just saw a manager that’s 23 years old, which is unheard of because so many people have left.
We’ve had a few victories though!
Back in the early 2000s, I worked as a dangerous goods agent. Basically, they handle all the packages that are regulated as hazmat, that would go on an airplane. Kind of an interesting, cool job. But we started having a lot of infighting in the work group. And I was actually in a band at the time, and I went on vacation for a month. And I came back to this really bad situation where the airplanes were going late because of our little work area, almost on a daily basis. And the managers had decided to demote our little work group by basically getting everyone in the building certified as dangers goods handlers. I mean they trained 20, 30 people. And we had a lot of fights with management over that. A lot of small worker actions to push back. We’d all call in sick on the same day. Or we wouldn’t ask for help until the last minute.
We also did what you would essentially call a slow down strike. We worked really slow, and we waited ’til the last minute to get help, and it would just sabotage the entire sort for that day. It would make the planes go out late for that day. Which costs the company I think about $3,000 a minute. So you can see how quickly this adds up and really hurts the company. But they responded by retaliating, by cutting our hours back. Basically we have a minimum of guaranteed hours. Part time is 17 and a half, so we were down to that.
Our slow down strike – I don’t know if it was successful. I would say probably not. But it had quite a long-lasting effect. Another thing that I did, personally, was, I knew that the manifests that we were sending on the plane weren’t actually matching what was in the containers. So I would send that information to the FAA and they started doing reports and going to our senior manager who would get really pissed off.
He came to me and said, “You cannot send these reports with out my permission.” I know that things came to a head. The senior manager pulled me over, and another manager that we were dueling with, who, by the way, worked as a warden for a prison before she was a manager at FedEx. So she was a pretty tough, crude, vindictive character. The senior told me, and her, he said, “Look. I don’t care what happens but next incident, both of you get what’s called a warning letter. And I’ll just keep giving you these until one or both of you are fired.”
So I knew that we were both on the chopping block. And he was sick of dealing with us. So I just left the work group. I became a truck driver. But I can tell you, three warning letters and you’re gone at FedEx.
We even had another manager have to get re-trained. That’s when you have had so many failures that you have to do re-training. So you’re kind of on your last leg. So, I think, I almost eliminated a manager there. Which is pretty hard to do. And had I had better organizing skills, I would have taken things to another level.
That leads me to our more successful fight against management at work.
About six, eight months into COVID, around September of 2020, I changed work groups from a morning work group to an evening group as a truck driver. And the manager there was a really stubborn and controlling person. Didn’t follow the rules. We have very specific policies at FedEx. And he did not abide by those rules. He also harassed the employees. And patronized them for calling in sick, trying to leave early, anything with sick calls. Or getting hurt. He would personally attack you. He would personally, verbally abuse you.
I prolly took this guy’s shit for about a year. I had gotten hurt. After about a year, I’d pulled a muscle in my ankle. And I had about 6 weeks of leave. And we have what’s called short-term disability, which partially paid for that. It’s an insurance plan that FedEx provides.
Which is really nice. But when I told my manager I was hurt, he just started complaining to me, sending me text messages. Saying that I “just wanted to go on vacation” or “Show me all those fake doctor excuses when you get them!”
What I did was, I made a case by basically saving all this guy’s text messages and went to HR. That was my first step. Then some other incident happened, a situation with an another employee, where the same manager had to give them a full-time upgrade from a Weekend shift to Monday – Friday shift. And he didn’t take them off their old shift for like two or three months. So I sent in an anonymous complaint about it. We have an anonymous complaint line and what’s great about it is that these complaints have to be answered. The employee got his Monday through Friday, and the manager couldn’t point the finger at anybody!
So the next thing I did was, we have what’s called an SFA – Survey, Feedback, Action. It’s basically a review that we get to do on the managers. Which is pretty rare. But it’s pretty much the only thing we have in our pocketbook. So I started rallying around all my co-workers being like, “Hey man. You don’t like what this guy does? We need to get together and slam this guy on his review.” It’s the only thing that’s going to hold them accountable for the way he treats us. And we did. We slammed him. He had the worst review in the building. And a lot of managers got bad reviews because the employees were pretty unhappy with the way FedEx dealt with COVID. I mean, yes, they encouraged us to wear masks and get vaccinated. But, for example, I had COVID in early 2022 and my manager basically told me to show up to work until I tested positive, which I thought was crazy.
After he found out about his terrible review, I made the mistake, I actually saw him that day and he pretty much took me aside, and talked to me in one of the conference rooms, one-on-one, and just told me he wanted me to leave the company. He told me, you know, I was a “miserable person”… I was “bringing down his work group”… And pretty much blamed me for why he got his shitty review.
So, I went in and did what’s called an internal EEO complaint. Against him. And that went up, above his head, it went up pretty far in the corporate thing. They had to do an investigation. I sent in all my text messages, we had a whole meeting where I had to talk to one of the district managers about it. And I’ll tell you, I think, the first work group meeting we had, we have them about once a month, first work group meeting we had he announced his retirement! And shortly after that work group meeting, even though he had yelled at me and announced he was going to retire, I wanted to seal the deal so I did that internal EEO complaint. He was gone by June of 2022. So I felt like it was a success. But it was a lot of us working together to try and make that happen.
So even without a union, you have a lot of opportunities and resources that you can use.
I didn’t even use external federal government resources like the external EEO, the government’s EEOC, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Which gives you a lot of lee way, for example if you’re fighting discrimination, retaliation, and things like that. There’s a lot of great ideas, like a work slow down, which can’t be considered a strike. So I encourage anyone to use all the tools at your disposal. If you feel like you’re being abused by your employer, don’t just take it lying down, fight back.