FedEx was far ahead of the curve when it came to union busting, and our “Democratic” President, whom union members helped to elect, admires their CEO, Frederick Smith.
Obama, entranced with power and prestige, is more interested in courting the elite than saving the disenfranchised. The president, when asked to name a business executive he admires, cited Frederick Smith of FedEx, although Smith is a union-busting Republican. Smith, who was a member of Yale’s secret Skull & Bones Society along with George W. Bush, served as John McCain’s finance chair. I guess Obama is hoping for some cash. And Smith has a lot of it. He founded FedEx in 1971, and the company had more than $35 billion in revenue in the fiscal year that ended in May. Smith is rich and powerful, but there is no ethical system, religious or secular, that would hold him up as a man worthy of emulation. Those who make vast profits at the expense of workers and the common good are not moral. They are not worthy of adulation. They build fortunes and little monuments to themselves off the pain and suffering of people like Henderson. Jesus called them “vipers.”
“He’s an example of somebody who is thinking long term,” the president said of Smith in an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek, adding that he “really enjoyed talking” with him at a Feb. 4 White House luncheon.
Smith does think in the long term. His company lavished money on members of Congress in 1996 so they would vote for an ad hoc change in the law banning the Teamsters Union from organizing workers at Federal Express. A few stalwarts in the Senate, including Edward Kennedy (in a speech reprinted in the Congressional Record on Oct. 1, 1996) and his then-colleague Paul Simon, denounced the obvious. The company had bought its legislative exemption. Most members of Congress, then as now, had become corporate employees.
UPS is unionized. It is the largest employer of the Teamsters. Labor costs, because of the union, account for almost two-thirds of its operating expenses. But Smith spends only a third of his costs on labor. There is something very wrong with a country that leaves a worker like Henderson sitting most of the day in a tiny apartment in excruciating pain and fighting off depression while his billionaire former boss is feted as a man of vision and invited to lunch at the White House. A country that stops taking care of its own, that loses the capacity for empathy and compassion, that crumples up human beings and throws them away when it is done with them, feeds dark ideological monsters that inevitably rise to devour the body politic.
FedEx is busy making sure Congress keeps unions out of its shops. It has lavished $17 million, double its 2008 total, on Congress to fight off an effort by UPS and the Teamsters to revoke Smith’s tailor-made ban on unions. Smith, again thinking “long term,” plans to continue to hire thousands of full-time employees and list them as independent contractors. If his workers are listed as independent contractors he does not have to pay Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance taxes. And when they get sick or injured or old he can push them onto the street. Henderson says FedEx treats its equipment as shabbily as its employees. There’s no difference between trucks and people to corporations that view everything as a commodity. Corporations exploit human beings and equipment and natural resources until exhaustion or collapse. They are cannibals.
If you have to send packages do not be a scab. Send it with UPS or the U.S. Postal Service. They have unions. Every step, however tiny, we take to thwart the corporate rape of the country and protect workers counts. We would have to do more, much more, but this would be a small start. Like Smith, our politicians have sold their souls. They will not help us. We must help ourselves.