FedEx is headed to court and they may win their case. However, Ronn Torossian believes that, in the court of public opinion, a win might be worse than a loss.

When it comes down to it, most people don’t quibble about their shipping preference. For the average consumer, the difference between FedEx and UPS is fairly minimal. From a public relations perspective, a win is not giving your customers a reason to CHOOSE the other guy – this may be about to change.

No matter how long or how often they work, FedEx drivers are not legally employees. They are independent contractors. Regardless of drivers’ employment status, the company maintains strict appearance, timeliness, and work standards from its drivers. In addition, the company reportedly deducts the cost of uniforms, truck washings, and log scanners from the drivers’ paychecks.

While these standards and practices may seem like those of an employer, FedEx considers their drivers to be independent contractors. The company doesn’t pay overtime to its drivers nor does it contribute to their Social Security benefits. These stipulations motivated a cadre of former drivers to sue FedEx Ground for back pay, including overtime and paycheck deductions.

Meanwhile, FedEx is defending the business model, claiming that it creates a healthy motivation for contractors to do their best. The courts aren’t buying FedEx’s rationale and recent rulings have determined that its drivers are defacto employees. Undeterred by these recent adverse rulings by the court, FedEx continues to disagree in the courtroom. FedEx has won very similar cases in the past, and a win in this case could save FedEx a tremendous amount of money in back pay as well as in the cost of current and future benefits for its drivers.

Ronn Torossian believes that each win for FedEx also comes with a cost that cannot be recovered – damage to its brand in the eyes of public opinion. According to Torossian, each time public consumers hear about these challenges and cases, they learn about the glaring difference between FedEx and UPS – while FedEx drivers are in and out of court fighting for employee status – UPS drivers are not only employees, they have a union.

On the surface this might seem like a selling point for FedEx, considering their argument is that their business model directly benefits the customer – yet, the company is somewhat reticent to bring this point of comparison to the forefront in marketing. As Ronn Torossian observes, “They’ll talk speed and they’ll talk quality . . . but, they rarely bring up motivated workers.”

Smart, because its a losing argument in the court of public opinion. Why? Because it rings so hollow. The company might save a lot on employment costs, taxes, and other benefits, however, it doesn’t appear to be passing those savings on to their customers. In turn, FedEx’s benefit from its argument is a net zero where PR is concerned. Another argument that FedEx puts forth in favor of contract employees is that the business can grow or shrink much easier – the company is less restricted without the typical employer-employee ties, therefore, they can more easily sever relationships. Plus, adding contractors is much more cost effective than bringing in new employees. Again, these factors solely and  squarely benefit the business – extending next to nothing for the consumer.

Taken together, FedEx comes off as a company looking to make a profit, which is typically not a bad thing. Nonetheless, the company looks like they are doing it at the expense of workers without any tangible benefits to its customers. In Ronn Torossian’s opinion, that’s a PR loser every time.

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Ronn Torossian is the Founder, President and CEO of New York-based 5W Public Relations. He has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion to the Inc. 500 list, as well as provided counsel to hundreds of companies, including members of the Fortune 500, Inc. 500 and Forbes 400. His work spans global interests, corporate entities, high-profile individuals, regional business entities, government agencies and academic institutions - both on routine public relations matters and extremely sensitive issues. One of the foremost public relations experts in the U.S., Torossian is known for his aggressive, results-focused orientation, as well as his close working relationships with members of the media, influencers, decision makers, politicians and celebrities. At 5W Public Relations, Torossian's client experience has included programs for Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Anheuser-Busch, Barnes & Noble, Cantor Fitzgerald, IHOP, McDonald's, Evian, EDS, VeriSign, XM Radio, Seagram's, The Loews Regency, Bad Boy Worldwide Entertainment, Marriott Hotels, Vail Resorts, Pamela Anderson, Snoop Dogg, the Government of Israel, and others. Referred to by The New York Post as a "publicity guru," by Fox News as a "high-powered PR CEO," by Tyra Banks as a "crisis management guru," and by CNN as "a leading PR expert," Torossian is regularly featured in and quoted by the media, including by CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC, NBC, The New York Times, and others. CBS National News said "Ronn Torossian knows spin," and a New York Times feature story on Torossian referred to him as "The consummate hard-driving, scrappy NY publicist." Earlier in his career, Torossian was a Vice President/Group Director for one of The InterPublic Group's (IPG) largest PR agencies, where he was responsible for significant client growth and successful client programs, including work for Clinique, Fox News Channel, DHL, Hard Rock Café and others. A resident of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, Torossian was named to the Advertising Age "40 Under 40" list, PR Week's "40 Under 40" List, is a regular lecturer at universities and conferences, a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and a board member of numerous non-profit organizations.