Federal Express Corp. says it will rework its air cargo operations so that it relies less on company pilots and planes if the fliers fail to accept a work contract.
In letters to non-pilot employees and customers Tuesday, Federal Express repeated its pledge to continue package shipments regardless of a work slowdown or a threatened strike by it 3,500 pilots over the Christmas holidays.
FedEx and the Fedex Pilots Association have been negotiating since July on the fliers' first contract with the cargo airline. Overall, the company and the pilots have been squabbling for five years over a work agreement.
The company said it was organizing a shift in operations that would put more reliance on its large truck fleet and contract aircraft and crews from other companies.
FedEx, a unit of FDX Corp., indicated the contract aircraft would play an especially large role in the company's international operations.
The changes would begin gradually and expand as needed, the company said.
"These are the plans we are putting in place. We had talked previously about preparing to do it," said FedEx spokesman Greg Rossiter. "We're now in a pretty active mode of putting those plans in place."
Bob Clement, union spokesman, said the threatened changes would alter the basic structure of the company's shipping operations.
"If they did any of these things, it would forever change the image of FedEx," Clement said. "When people say FedEx, they don't say overnight it to me by trying to get it on a truck or figure out if a contingency flight on a contract flier is going. They know when you say FedEx that it's going on the most reliable air-express service in the world."
FedEx broke off formal negotiations with the union last month after talks bogged down over pay, retirement and scheduling.
The pilots stopped working overtime Monday, and the union sent out strike authorization ballots in an effort to get contract talks going again.
Pilots are the company's only domestic employees represented by a union, and the FPA contract would be a first for FedEx.