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FedEx drivers win right to hold union ballot

Labor relations panel says workers aren't contractors

Truck drivers for a FedEx division in Worcester are employees, not independent contractors, according to a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board's regional office in Boston that gives the drivers the right to hold a secret-ballot election for a union.

The decision against FedEx Home Delivery, a division of FedEx Ground Package System Inc. in Pittsburgh, argues that although 23 drivers at the terminal signed contracts stating that they would operate as independent contractors, they should be considered employees under labor law because they must adhere to the company's rules and regulations and do not exercise full control over work, compensation, training, or routes.

''FHD exercises substantial control over the contractors' performance of their functions," wrote Rosemary Pye, the NLRB's regional director. The decision, issued last week, was released yesterday by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which is trying to organize the drivers.

The decision stems from allegations brought by Teamsters Local 170, which said workers were wrongly denied access to a union because the company said they were not full employees.

''If they were independent contractors, they should have been able to operate their business the way they chose," said Mike Hogan, a Teamsters organizer. ''We felt it was a sham."

Hogan said the Teamsters Union sent a letter to Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly yesterday urging him to investigate the company. Meredith Baumann, a spokesperson in the attorney general's office, said there is an open investigation of FedEx's use of independent contractors. ''This NLRB decision will be instructive and will assist in our ongoing discussions with FedEx," said Baumann.

Perry Colosimo, managing director of communications for FedEx Ground, said the company would continue to rely on independent contractors.

''FedEx Ground disagrees with the regional director's decision to allow FedEx Home Delivery independent contractors in Worcester to participate in an election for third-party representation," said Colosimo, who said the company would appeal. ''These small-business owners deliver industry leading service to our mutual customers without the need for third party representation."

Diane E. Lewis can be reached at dlewis@globe.com.

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