Understanding the ‘Brown Bailout’

by Matthew Shaffer

Have you seen the web-ads urging us to “Stop the Brown Bailout”? FedEx is running an aggressive online and legislative campaign to prevent the passage of the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2009, with UPS and the Teamsters aggressively countering them.

Aviation funding isn’t exactly a cultural hot spot, so you won’t see this covered on Hannity. But I did some investigation, and found the “Brown Bailout” to be not just an interesting story, but something of a microcosm for our economic and bureaucratic pathologies. My piece — which includes the history and both sides of the controversy — is here. A highlight:

[Some claim] UPS is resorting to a more cynical strategy: If the company can’t restore parity by making itself more competitive, at least it can cripple FedEx — with the Teamsters’ help.

UPS’s weapon is a few paragraphs that Oberstar added to the FAA Reauthorization Act. The legislation is here, and — though it’s hard for anyone not on the Infrastructure Committee to decode — it would essentially place FedEx’s relations with its truckers under the NLRA, giving the Teamsters an entrance and would-be strikers a chance.

Oberstar claims that his provision isn’t for UPS, but for the workers within FedEx’s own ranks. A member of Minnesota’s peculiar Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, he’s a leftist in the old style, some might say a union hack. “He is the son of a labor leader on the Iron Range of Minnesota. He himself worked on the iron-ore mines of Minnesota,” says Berard. “He carries a United Steel Workers card. His father was buried with his union contract in his pocket. You’re damn right he sympathizes with labor.” Berard claims the Oberstar office receives — “on a weekly basis” — calls from FedEx workers who support the legislation.