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Court Rules For FedEx Drivers In Suit Over Job Classification

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

OK. Next time you have a package delivered, here's something you might not realize - the FedEx driver who pulls up in the FedEx truck and is wearing the FedEx uniform - is not officially a FedEx employee. That's the company's view, at least. Now a federal appeals court in Oregon has ruled that some 2,300 drivers for FedEx Ground in California were misclassified as independent contractors. This is a ruling that could open the door to back claims of hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid wages and benefits.

Here's NPR's Richard Gonzales.

RICHARD GONZALES, BYLINE: FedEx drivers pay out of their own pockets for their uniforms and all of the costs related to their trucks, such as fuel, tires and maintenance. They even rent the scanners that record deliveries.

BETH ROSS: So the FedEx drivers you see on the road, driving the green and the purple trucks, who come to your door wearing a FedEx uniform, a FedEx hat, who you assume would be an employee of FedEx? FedEx insists that they are independent businesspeople enjoying the American dream.

GONZALES: Beth Ross, an attorney for the drivers who worked between 2,000 and 2007, says FedEx has simply been shifting costs onto the backs of its workers, who really aren't that independent. Under the terms of FedEx's operating agreement, or work rules, the company controls virtually all aspects of the job. A driver's appearance, the look of the company truck, the delivery areas and the hours worked.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals cites those work rules in its finding that under California law, the drivers were, in effect, company employees and not independent contractors. And as such, they could be entitled to unpaid wages and benefits.

The ruling could influence the outcome of dozens other legal challenges to FedEx's classification of drivers as contractors. FedEx spokesman Patrick Fitzgerald says his company will seek a rehearing by the entire Ninth Circuit.

PATRICK FITZGERALD: We fundamentally disagree with these rulings, which run counter to more than a hundred state and federal rulings, upholding our contractual relationship with thousands of independent businesses.

GONZALES: Fitzgerald says FedEx no longer contracts with individual drivers, but with incorporated businesses that treat their drivers as employees.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News. [EDITOR'S NOTE: FedEx Ground is a subsidiary of FedEx Corp. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court decision does not pertain to FedEx Express, FedEx Freight or FedEx Services.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: August 28, 2014 at 12:00 AM EDT
FedEx Ground is a subsidiary of FedEx Corp. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court decision does not pertain to FedEx Express, FedEx Freight or FedEx Services.
Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.

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