FedEx contractor case aired on Capitol Hill

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A former FedEx owner-operator recently told a congressional panel that the company had misclassified him as an independent contractor.

Bob Williams, who worked for FedEx Home Delivery in Northboro, Mass., testified July 24 before House Education and Labor subcommittees at a hearing titled “The Misclassification of Workers as Independent Contractors.” The National Labor Relations Board’s Region 1 determined Williams and other drivers were wrongly classified as contractors and were employees under the law.

Companies need a universal definition of employee status instead of the confusing multiple definitions among federal agencies such as the Internal Revenue Service and the Labor Department, said Christine Walker, who testified on behalf of the Society for Human Resource Management. Agreeing on that point was David Socolow, commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

Paul DeCamp, administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, testified that while misclassifying an employee as an independent contractor is not itself a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act or other laws the department enforces, the department does concern itself with it because it can result in minimum-wage or overtime violations. No single factor determines employee or independent contractor status, DeCamp added.

FedEx Ground spokesman Perry Colosimo said the company wasn’t surprised by the testimony from Williams, who stated that FedEx fired him in 2005 because of his union activities and his protests of the company’s policies. “FedEx gave Mr. Williams not one, but two, chances to succeed — once as a management employee at FedEx Express, and a second chance as a contractor at FedEx Ground,” Colosimo said. “His performance was unacceptable in both cases.”

Since 2001, according to the Teamsters union, the NLRB regional offices have ruled six consecutive times that FedEx Ground and FedEx Home Delivery drivers are employees under the National Labor Relations Act, not independent contractors. The NLRB also has investigated unfair labor practice charges stemming from the termination of Williams and other union backers. The board filed a consolidated complaint against FedEx Home Delivery in March 2007, and a hearing is set for August.