This was a highly irritating story on NPR’s Morning Edition today:

Trucking Rivals Fight Lobbying Battle Over Legislation

In short, back in 1996, language was put into a must-pass aviation bill which classifies FedEx as an airline, not a trucking firm — preventing FedEx employees from unionizing while UPS drivers all belong to the Teamsters union.

To me, it seems like this gives an unfair advantage to one specific company over another. After all, as the Teamsters’ Ken Hall points out in the NPR story, “When you receive a delivery from a FedEx driver, it’s not a pilot, it’s a driver.”

As you would expect, UPS wants the law changed to make the playing field more level, and FedEx is fighting to resist the proposed change — which is once again connected to a must-pass aviation bill that includes important funding for air traffic control.

What disgusts me in all this is the approach taken by FedEx in their reported $21 million lobbying campaign. In the video above (comments disabled at YouTube), they’re mocking the long-haired spokesman from the UPS Whiteboard campaign (actually The Martin Agency’s Andy Azula) as “Brown Bailout Guy” — a freeloader trying to pester Congress for his “bailout.” The word is used every 5 seconds in the video.

Apparently, FedEx has read about Frank Luntz’s polling on the word “bailout” as the most repulsive way to characterize anything you want to kill.

But is it anything like a bailout, really?

Even in the NPR story, Maury Lane, director of corporate communications at FedEx, sticks to Tea Party-style disingenuousness:

“Who it hurts is the consumers, and it hurts taxpayers, and it actually takes a lot of people’s confidence out of government,” Lane said.

I’m sorry, but so far my confidence in government has been lowered by the thought that FedEx drivers are airline employees while UPS drivers are truck drivers.

Look, if there’s some actual case to be made for why FedEx drivers should be classified differently than UPS drivers, then go ahead and make it. If there’s a common sense reason why UPS should have to pay the higher costs of organized labor — and its drivers enjoy the benefits — while FedEx does not, then state it.

But don’t assume all Americans are so stupid that all you have to do is repeat “bailout” ad nauseam ala Pee-wee Herman. That’s just insulting. Frank Luntz should not be the role model for the corporate communications director of a respectable, winning company.

In fact, based on this story alone, when I have to choose a delivery provider today, I am suddenly much more inclined to let Brown do it.

Update: FactCheck.org agrees that FedEx is being deceptive

In a July 2 article titled “‘Bailout’ Baloney,” FactCheck.org writes:

FedEx has been misusing “bailout” for more than a year in a multimillion-dollar campaign to prejudice the public against a proposal that would change labor laws.

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