FedEx pilots have rejected a provisional labor agreement. However, this does not mean that they are about to walk off the job at the same time that 340,000 drivers and other hourly ground employees are threatening to strike against UPS.
57% of FedEx pilots who are members of the Air Line Pilots Association voted against the proposed contract that was approved by union leadership in May. The proposed contract would have included a 30% raise in remuneration and a 30% increase in pension benefits. It is not yet apparent what the rank-and-file objections are.
However, despite the “no” vote, the 5,200 FedEx pilots will not be able to strike in the near future. They are governed by a distinct labor law than the majority of private sector workers, who are permitted to go on strike when their contracts expire, as is the case with the Teamsters at UPS, who could go on strike as early as August 1.
Despite its moniker, the Railway Labor Act applies to both rail personnel and airline employees, including FedEx pilots. These are two of the most unionized industries in the United States, and the law places significant obstacles in the way of any union that wishes to strike. The FedEx pilots, who, unlike most FedEx employees, are classified as airline employees for purposes of labor law, have not yet overcome any of these obstacles.
Union Negotiations, Strikes, and Presidential ‘Cooling Off Period
If union negotiations mediated by the federal government reach an impasse, a union can be granted permission to strike. However, the law permits the president of the United States to intervene at the last minute and order employees to remain on the job for a month-long “cooling off period” while a presidential panel makes recommendations to resolve the impasse.
If the two parties are unable to reach an agreement during the cooling off period, the union could go on strike, but only if Congress remains neutral and allows the strike to proceed. It is conceivable, however, that Congress would act to prevent a strike. In December of last year, the Congress imposed a contract on the enraged rail unions in order to keep freight railroads operating.
FedEx stated on Monday that it was “disappointed with these voting results.” However, it was noted that pilots will continue working as negotiations resume.
“The results of the vote on the tentative agreement have no effect on our service as we continue to deliver to customers around the world,” the company said. FedEx will continue to negotiate in good faith with its pilots in order to reach a reasonable agreement for all FedEx stakeholders.
FedEx Pilots: The Sole Unionized Group Within the Company
The union stated that it will return to the negotiating table in an effort to reach an agreement that its members will support.
“We will respect the membership’s decision, chart a new course, and be ready to reengage as soon as possible,” the union’s leadership said in a statement to its members. “We ask that you maintain unity and have faith that the process will result in an agreement that all FedEx pilots will be pleased to support,”
There is a well-documented pilot dearth in the United States, affecting both passenger and cargo airlines. This has placed pilots in a position to receive substantial pay raises. United Airlines recently struck an agreement to award its pilots a raise of up to 40 percent.
American Airlines and its pilots union reached an agreement in June to raise pilots’ pay by approximately 42%, but once United Airlines and its pilots union reached an agreement, American and its pilots union decided not to even put their deal to a vote because it was no longer better than the United deal and likely would not have passed.
Before being presented to American pilots for ratification, the American contract is likely to be improved by an additional 2% to bring it in line with a tentative agreement at United and to incorporate some adjustments to work regulations won by United pilots.
In recent years, there have been numerous instances of union members voting against agreements recommended by union leadership. In October of 2021, members of the United Auto Workers union at agricultural equipment manufacturer John Deere voted down a lucrative deal and went on strike, then voted down a second deal and remained on strike for five weeks before accepting a third offer to end the strike. And many freight railroad unions rejected agreements that their union leadership had negotiated, despite the likelihood that Congress would act to compel them to accept a deal.