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Today, the Senate will vote on the Federal Aviation Administration budget, which has been the flashpoint for fierce battles this week. The FAA bill authorizes spending on airport construction and security programs over the next two years. But the bill also has a controversial provision slipped in by Federal Express that would prevent FedEx workers from organizing locally.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re listening to Democracy Now!, Pacifica Radio’s daily grassroots election show. I’m Amy Goodman.

Today, the Senate will vote on the Federal Aviation Administration budget, which has been the flashpoint for fierce battles this week. The FAA bill authorizes spending on airport construction and security programs over the next two years. But the bill also has a controversial provision that was slipped in by Federal Express in a conference committee, that would prevent FedEx workers from organizing locally. Now, the battle on the floor is being fought by Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy. He is filibustering, while his colleague, Democratic Senator Ernest Hollings of South Carolina, is speaking on behalf of FedEx. The Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott says they will be able to override the filibuster.

Joining us now are two FedEx workers. We’re joined by Leanna Cochran, who is a dispatcher for FedEx in Indianapolis. We’re also joined by Bill Chaffin, and he is a courier for FedEx in the same area, Indianapolis. I spoke to them yesterday at Teamsters headquarters here in Washington, D.C., after they testified before Congress. This is Bill Chaffin. Tell us what’s happened.

BILL CHAFFIN: The problem with the legislation currently is, FedEx has tried to back door and put a bill to pass the House onto the Senate that would allow them the protection of not having, a union, the right to organize the company, which, myself, I’ve petitioned today. Our company, HNB, has been the first petitioner in the state of Indiana against FedEx because of the unfair labor practice that they’ve been pursuing for years. Job security is the number one issue at our station, pay, and public safety has become a real issue of the driving force, at the way they’re driving us. And I said we filed a petition today to organize. And this bill literally makes it impossible for our efforts to go nationally, when we’re a local unit. We need to have the bill to read where we can organize station by station, like UPS and Airborne and all the other companies have had the right to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the Railway Labor Act does say that you can organize, but only nationally. What’s wrong with organizing nationally?

LEANNA COCHRAN: The logistics of getting 40,000 people nationwide, coast to coast, organized, getting them educated so that they know what their options are, and keeping them current about what’s going on today in the operation are just nearly impossible. We will fight that battle. And we will win that battle, eventually, if we need to. We would much rather be able to do it more quickly, a little more gracefully, and get down to the business of living and working for Federal Express.

AMY GOODMAN: How did FedEx manage to get this included in the bill? And why all this last-minute rush today?

DAVID COCHRAN: Well, I’m not sure exactly how they got it included, but they decided to wait ’til the last before the Congress was ready to recess to try to just slide it through the back door.

LEANNA COCHRAN: They had tried to attach this amendment to bills on four or five other occasions in the past few months. Senator Hollings, who is from South Carolina, has been doing this for them. The other attempts to get the bills passed were not successful. So, this time they chose a very popular bill, one that would easily pass both houses of Congress, when it was going to be addressed, at the end of the session. And they attached the amendment to that one, hoping to slide it through without anyone even knowing.

AMY GOODMAN: This was the FAA Reauthorization Act?

LEANNA COCHRAN: That’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Chaffin, what do you have to do with the FAA?

BILL CHAFFIN: We have nothing to do with the FAA. Fred Smith, when he organized FedEx, he tried to put it under the Railway Labor Act because of the airline. But we are no longer an airline. We are now a trucking and a package delivery business, just like UPS and Airborne, which is our competitors, which are unionized and were allowed to do so station by station.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about the issues that you want to unionize around. Right now you’re not unionized? Can you talk about your working conditions?

BILL CHAFFIN: Our conditions of why we want to unionize is, one, to improve our worker benefits and our relationship with our company and our officials. Right now we’re running rampant. Our bosses are threatening us, threatening us our jobs, pushing us on high productivity ranges that are out of status. There’s no way that drivers can make those quotas. The quotas are being held accountable. If you don’t make the quotas, then you could lose your job, be terminated.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by high productivity quotas? What would a driver have to do in FedEx to meet them?

BILL CHAFFIN: Well, a driver would have to speed or cut corners or to do whatever to make his quota. We have supervisors that go out regularly, every three to six months, and give check rides. Whatever you do on that particular day is a check ride. For example, if you would do 16 stops per hour, that now becomes your minimum quota in order to keep your job. Now, to get any bonus or pro pay, you would have to do 19 stops per hour, which puts the public risk at safety, because between 10:20 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. comes crunch time. If you’ve got six stops left on your truck, you’re only thinking of getting those six stops off, because if you don’t and you got a warning letter, you could get in trouble when you get back in the station.

AMY GOODMAN: This reminds me of Domino’s, those deliveries they promised in less than 30 minutes, and the number of accidents and people killed on the road.

LEANNA COCHRAN: It doesn’t seem to be a big issue with Federal Express. We’re also concerned that with this kind of pressure on us, we can’t give the service to our customers that they’re used to getting from us.

We’re concerned also very much about our future with the company. We have witnessed in the last couple of years Federal Express going more and more and more to outside vendors to do the work that we have been doing. They not only don’t hire more people as our workload increases, they don’t let us work overtime to do our own jobs. Anything that we can’t accomplish within the allotted amount of time is sent to an outside contractor. We believe that the reason they’re doing that is because they do not want those of us who have been there for a long time to stay. They don’t want us to retire from Federal Express because they don’t want to pay us retirement benefits.

We have watched over the last few years our benefit package erode dramatically. So far this year, there have been 39 policy changes at Federal Express, and each one of them was reducing a benefit or eliminating a benefit altogether. That’s just this year, and the year’s not over yet. We want to stop the erosion.

We want to get back on the same team, where management and the hourly employees can work together for the prosperity of Federal Express. We’ve worked very hard to build this company. Sometimes we worked a hundred hours a week. I’ve worked 104 hours in one week myself, many, many, many hours of — weeks, I’m sorry, of 96 hours, 84 hours, and that’s when I was a single parent with two children. But that’s what Federal Express needed from us. We did it. We did whatever needed to be done. And we built this company into what it is today. We’re not going to let them tell us that they don’t need us anymore. We’re not going to let them hire people instead of us at $4 or $5 an hour less money than what they pay us. This is our company, too, and we want it back. We want to protect it. We want to see it continue to grow. I want to get old and wrinkled at Federal Express. And I want to know that when that happens, I can retire and not have to live in destitution for the rest of my life.

AMY GOODMAN: Why haven’t you organized before now? I mean, this is 1996, and it was just on Wednesday that somehow it became clear that FedEx got this express company inserted — this language that says “express company” inserted under the Railway Labor Act, which would mean you would have to organize only nationally. Why not until 1996? How long have you been there, Bill Chaffin?

BILL CHAFFIN: I’ve been with FedEx 13 years as a courier. I also have done everything. I’ve dispatched. I’ve been a semi driver. I’m a courier. I love my company. Don’t get me wrong. This company is one of the greatest companies in the world for our service and everything that it offers to the public.

But the company has eroded, just like Leanna was saying. In the last year, year and a half, they’ve had some major policy changes, which one is young and dear to my heart, speaking of concerns. We’ve got two employees in the last six months have lost their jobs. And the reason they have lost their jobs, they have been hurt on the job trying to deliver a package. They’ve torn their rotator cuff by lifting a package that was 70, 75 pounds, which we are required to lift, at a fast pace. These people had to go to the operation with a rotator cuff injury.

Our policy, they came out with in the last three months, has stated if you are off 30 days, you lose your route. You no longer are the courier to that route which you have always delivered. If you are off 90 days with this injury or operation, you are no longer a courier, period. You’re a displaced employee. Then you have 90 days to find another position — you have 30 days to find another position within the company anywhere. You may have to transfer to another state to find a part-time employment, because there’s no full-time jobs out there they offer right off the bat. So you have to take a major downgrade with a pay decrease, plus move your family, in order to stay there, after you’ve been there 14 years to build this company.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, why haven’t you organized before? Why haven’t you formed these local unions?

BILL CHAFFIN: We’ve always been met with strong opposition. They’ve threatened us, told us that if we try to organize, that we could lose our job or benefits. Our senior manager at our station told us, just two weeks ago — she held us a meeting — told us that is we sign a union card and try to organize, at that point all of our benefits, our wages and everything, when we went to negotiation, would be blank. We’d have no pay, no retirement, no benefits, no nothing. And everybody is just scared to death.

AMY GOODMAN: Is this legal?

LEANNA COCHRAN: Well, no, it’s not legal. And that’s part of what we are asking the Teamsters to help us with. Federal Express has a highly developed management training program about how to deal with union activities when they crop up in your station. I think maybe they’ve forgotten some of those. They’re crash-coursing them again so they know how to deal with this.

But I wanted to address your question about why not before. When Fred Smith started Federal Express, he used a policy called “People-Service-Profit.” If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of your service, and that’ll take care of your profit. And I believe that, in his heart, he believed in that philosophy. And for many years, he supported that philosophy. During my early years at Federal Express, I was a courier, got many, many job offers from my customers while I was out on the road. A team of wild horses could not have pulled me out of Federal Express. But as time has gone on and we have become so much bigger, we’ve become international, competing in a whole different market. Mr. Smith has to answer to a board of directors. And I think that he’s kind of forgotten the People-Service-Profit philosophy. Now we have a philosophy, in actuality, of Profit-Profit-Profit. And the almighty dollar is really the only thing that matters anymore. So, it’s taken a process of years and the gradual erosion.

This activity started recently because of one particular action that Federal Express has taken. They have converted our tractor-trailer drivers’ jobs over to common carriers. These drivers, Federal Express employees, who would go to work each day, get into a big truck, drive it to its destination and then come back home again, are no longer allowed to do this. In many cases, they are working the ramps loading the trailers for other trucking companies. Non-Federal Express employees, five major national trucking companies, now carry our freight for us, instead of Federal Express people doing it. And this action was taken to keep the union out. You can’t organize truck drivers if you don’t have truck drivers.

Some of the guys were lucky enough to be able to keep a truck-driving job, but they had to relocate to do it. Federal Express, very graciously, paid their moving charges. They had relocation packages. But they still had to pick up their families and leave their homes in order to keep their jobs. Others were not that lucky at all. We’ve got several instances where people have been fired, tractor-trailer drivers in particular, for minor technicalities, when in fact they had had no problems prior to attending union meetings. Attend a union meeting, and the next week they’re fired for some minor infraction.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, clearly, this is going a step beyond organizing, you testifying before Congress. What kind of risks do you face, David Cochran?

DAVID COCHRAN: Well, we’re — it’ll be interesting to see what does expire from this. But under federal laws, there is so much that they cannot do to us. I’m sure we’ll probably be questioned. They will bring us into an office and hold a meeting with us, probably will ask us — want to know why we’re all so unhappy. And we’ll have to explain to them why we did this and what our problems are with the company.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you expect to face repercussions, Bill Chaffin?

BILL CHAFFIN: Yes, ma’am. I suspect tomorrow afternoon, when I come in off my route, I’ll probably have a meeting with my boss, because they’re that type of people. I expect to be severely interrogated, try to be intimidated, which I’m not going to be intimidated anymore. I’m a God-fearing man. I believe in God, and I fear God and only God. And I’m doing this for the love of the country and for my company and for my fellow workers.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you expect this bill to pass?

BILL CHAFFIN: I’ve been praying about it. I hope whatever happens, God has the right, and I hope he has the last say in it. And in my heart, and I think the American people know that this bill is wrong. It’s underhanded for Federal Express to try to do it. I’m hoping that it does not pass. If it passes, it would be a slap in the face. But as Leanna says, it will only make the fight longer and tougher, and we will win.

AMY GOODMAN: Is this a Republican versus a Democratic effort, including you in the FAA Authorization Act to prevent you from locally organizing?

LEANNA COCHRAN: Indiana is, has forever been, a very subtly Republican state. I was raised as a Republican and have always been one. But I’ve got to say that this is a clear demonstration of the Republican Party’s stance against labor and for big business. I have to open my eyes and rethink my politics.

AMY GOODMAN: And that was Leanna Cochran. She is a dispatcher for Federal Express in Indiana, Indianapolis. Bill Chaffin was also joining her. He’s a courier for the company. The bill is expected to go to a vote today.

Democracy Now! is produced by Julie Drizin. Our engineer has been Ken Mason. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can call 1-800-735-0230. That’s 1-800-735-0230. And remember, we are looking for a producer for Democracy Now! You can write to us at Pacifica Radio, 2390 Champlain Street, Washington, D.C. 20009. Send a résumé and a letter, again, to Democracy Now!, Pacifica Radio, 2390 Champlain Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20009. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for listening to another edition of Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!

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