FedEx workers had enough of impossible workloads and understaffing — so they organized.
Injured on the job
Jeremiah Davila, a retail employee (known internally as a store consultant) at FedEx Office, tried to reason with management about unreasonable workloads and understaffing. He saw co-workers transfer and quit and knew that management wouldn’t fill the vacancies unless pay and working conditions improved. Though some might imagine FedEx office as a laid-back work environment, the work is specialized and taxing: workers unload, package, and transport heavy parcels while balancing additional retail and production duties. For Jeremiah, the breaking point came when he was injured on the job — and management, he says, was nonchalant. Done with waiting on empty promises, he took to organizing.
“I had been warning them for a while [about] these working conditions … [saying] we can’t keep working like this. If someone calls in sick, you can push yourself a little for a day, but you can’t keep going like that for a month,” he notes. “So I’d been warning them for a while, and they just were kind of like, ‘Yeah, yeah, we’ll take care of you,’ was the response, but nothing ever got done. Just a lot of empty promises … When I told them about the injury, they just seemed more skeptical than anything else.”
He wasn’t alone. Jeremiah’s co-worker, Genesis, had also seen the company promise to improve working conditions then fail to deliver. At their flagship store — one of the busiest in the district — workers juggled packing, shipping, printing, laminating, and retail duties, with critically low levels of staffing. Over time, their team of four dwindled to two, with no new hires in sight. Instead, management turned to a band-aid solution:
“As far as I can tell, our entire district is short-staffed. They like to play this game where they bounce people round from store to store, to cover the short staffing. But the reality is they have a store that’s really understaffed and then they pull people from a marginally less understaffed store. What the reality is, whatever the magic number is for the district … no matter how much you’re bouncing them around they’re all doing the work of more than one person,” says Jeremiah.
“We did a little digging to find out about the managerial compensation. I don’t know the exact numbers, but as far as the store manager on up, if there is a budgetary surplus, they do receive a bonus, a percentage of it. Not illegal, but obviously very unethical and a clear motivator, borderline conflict of interest,” he adds.
Learning the ropes
Jeremiah and Genesis had never participated in workplace actions, but they learned as they went. They went out on strike, demanding an end to understaffing, compensation for the specialized nature of their work, and safe workloads — so no one is injured again. “It’s been very bootstraps guerilla from the start, but that’s kind of our style,” says Jeremiah. After a supervisor allegedly made social media comments stating they would retaliate against workers for their organizing, they filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Management was quick to respond.
“Once we filed those charges, there was a huge change in the communication with management — massive change. A lot more toned down, respectful, actually taking seriously what we were saying about our boundaries, about, ‘Hey, we’re trying to negotiate here, collective bargaining, yeah, we’re not a recognized union, but we still have protection to collectively bargain nonetheless,’” says Jeremiah.
When we fight, we win
Taking action with your co-workers can be nerve wracking, but Genesis and Jeremiah looked to other worker victories for resolve. “Genesis and I were on the fence were on striking. We were actually talking about the UPS strike, and I was like, if they did it, anyone can do it … If they hadn’t done that, I don’t think we would have followed through with what we’re doing,” he says.
Fortunately, they’re not alone. Workers across the country are winning historic raises and improvements to working conditions at UPS, Ford, GM, and Stellantis — all of which workers won by preparing to fight for each other. If you’re curious about organizing your own workplace, Jeremiah has advice: “The NLRB is a great starting point, they have all the forms. But it’s really confusing, and I’m not gonna lie, I had to have a few tries to get my stuff right. So an organization like EWOC is what I would also recommend — where people have been through the process and they can help you if you have questions … people who have done it before are gonna be the best people who can help.”
Want to improve your workplace? Contact an EWOC organizer now!
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.