Capt. Chris Norman is chair of the Air Line Pilots Association’s FedEx group. Opinions are the author’s own.
For a company whose slogan is the "World on Time,” FedEx is failing to expeditiously deliver a contract to its own pilots.
Negotiations have been ongoing since May 2021. Both parties committed to a focused process and a relatively short slate of issues. Progress was reasonable through December of 2022, but, since then, FedEx management has refused to provide the compensation necessary for a ratifiable agreement. Meanwhile, Delta, Hawaiian and other airline management teams have successfully negotiated significantly improved agreements with their pilots.
Recently, senior FedEx management has resorted to guerrilla marketing tactics, including downplaying the state of bargaining to current FedEx customers by claiming this situation is similar to previous negotiations. They have also shown a readiness to take on UPS customers, but the truth is that FedEx is not ready and will not be ready to handle an influx of volume until it gets the pilots back on its side.
The Railway Labor Act governs our contract and bargaining, and the legislation eventually permits a strike or other self-help measures if a series of processes fail to produce a ratified agreement. Despite our best efforts and repeated warnings to FedEx management, we are well on our way through those processes. Management’s recalcitrance has led the ALPA’s FedEx Master Executive Council to formally set the stage for a strike authorization vote if things don’t turn around. It would be the first strike authorization vote at FedEx since November 1998.
When discussing such a negative path, it’s important to consider what FedEx pilots do. On a typical day, FedEx pilots operate 709 flights around the globe. We carry nearly everything imaginable, including vital medical supplies and technology. In day-to-day lives, we remain largely invisible, but our impact on company growth is very real.
Delivering a substandard pilot contract is not a path to success for FedEx. The quality of past FedEx contracts has enabled FedEx to recruit experienced, highly qualified pilots who were a match for the company’s demanding schedule and mission-driven environment.
The market for air transport category pilots is more competitive than ever. It’s not uncommon for a pilot a year or two into a job at a major airline to resign and move to another major airline with a better contract. For FedEx to maintain its quality of performance, it needs to be a prime competitor in the market for experienced, highly qualified pilots and this contract is an essential element.
It's not easy to say these things. The pilots of FedEx Express have proven themselves to be critical team members of the most successful cargo airline in the world. Along with many other FedEx employees, we helped our founder build this airline into the success story that it is today. During the pandemic, we stepped up under extraordinary circumstances and sacrificed a great deal to carry our company, brand, and shareholders through the greatest challenge the company has ever faced.
“People, Service, Profit” is the philosophy that built our brand, and it is still the way forward today. Now is the time for FedEx to stop playing short-sighted, value-destroying games and complete an agreement that truly positions it to compete.