FedEx Freight Drivers in NC Decertify Teamsters

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By Jacquie Lee

FedEx Freight drivers in Charlotte, N.C., voted to decertify the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 71 on July 7, FedEx said in a statement.

Neither the company nor the union would discuss the decertification, but one observer told Bloomberg BNA the exit may be a sign of future trends.

“The labor board is an extremely politicized federal agency,” Eric Fink, an associate law professor at Elon University, said of the National Labor Relations Board. “Under Democratic administrations, it’s more favorable toward unions. With Republicans it’s more favorable toward employers.”

Fink anticipates an increase in the amount of petitions for decertification elections during a Republican administration. If employers feel they have a more sympathetic board, they’re more likely to encourage employees to reconsider their union representation, he told Bloomberg BNA. An increase in decertification petitions would be a stark contrast to the trend of the past decade, which saw such petitions decrease by about half.

Employees can file for a decertification election if they believe support for their union has diminished but must gather signatures from at least 30 percent of workers. Those filings have been decreasing over the years, however.

Downward Trend May Change

From 2007 to 2017, the number of petition submissions for decertification elections nationwide dropped by almost half, according to Bloomberg BNA’s labor data. In the first half of 2007, 328 decertification petitions were filed with the NLRB; in the first half of 2017, the number was 172.

That reduction surprises Fink, though he has seen unions fall in prominence over the last decade. But FedEx workers in North Carolina decertifying a union is less of a shock, he said.

“The southeast in general and North and South Carolina specifically are much less friendly toward unions and have been so for many decades,” Fink told Bloomberg BNA July 10. And with FedEx’s business model, bargaining gets in the way, he said, not just for wages but for other decisions like work assignments.

“They view what they see as flexibility as really centric to their business model,” Fink said. They see the need to bargain over matters like wages and work schedules “as limiting their flexibility and limiting their ability to respond to their customer’s needs.”

The local has represented the drivers in Charlotte since November 2014.

High-employee turnover rates are the root of many decertification votes, and that’s likely the case with the July 7 vote, Fink said. Typically, newer workers who did not fight for union representation in the first place are less loyal to the union than older workers, Fink said. And a high turnover rate is not unusual among truck drivers, he said.

Some Prefer Direct Communications

Some expect employees to benefit from the vote.

“A benefit from decertifying the union is getting rid of the third-party that is an impediment to direct conversation between employer and employees about workplace conditions,” Trey Kovacs, a policy analyst at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said.

Members also won’t have to pay dues or be constrained by a one-size-fits-all working model, Kovacs said.

But those who vote to decertify usually regret it, Kate Bronfenbrenner, the director of labor education research at Cornell University, told Bloomberg BNA. Through her research, Bronfenbrenner found once a union is pushed out, it is usually difficult to get them back.

“Things did not get better, and once it was over, to get organized again was much harder,” she said. “Unions are hesitant to go back to workers who decertify.” She could not point to concrete wage numbers but said after decertification, workers get paid what they did before their union contract, which is typically less.

Decertification Unusual in Private Sector

The FedEx Freight facility is located in a state where unions are traditionally weaker, but it’s still unusual for union members to call for decertification at private companies, Bronfenbrenner said. Public employees participate in far more decertification elections because they’re usually switching union representation rather than getting rid of unions altogether, she told Bloomberg BNA. But when private employees become unionized, they’re less likely to vote for decertification, because for them there is a high chance they’ll lose the ability to be unionized at all.

In the FedEx Freight drivers’ case, “the Teamsters are the largest union in that area—so it’s pretty much Teamsters or nothing at all,” Fink said. Looking forward, Fink anticipates decertification elections will increase in the next few years. “I would anticipate with the change in administration and change in politics you may see an increase,” he said.

Representatives from both Local 71 and the Teamsters’ national office would not comment. FedEx released a statement about the vote. “We are pleased with these results and continue to believe that our thriving, competitive work environment provides a more flexible, team-oriented, and customer-focused work model than the union can offer,” it said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacquie Lee at jlee1@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Chris Opfer at copfer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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