* 31 current, former drivers sue FedEx
* Suit claims drivers are employees, not independent
* Latest in long-running feud (Adds company spokesman comment in paragraph 7)
BOSTON, Aug 17 (Reuters) - Thirty-one current and former truck drivers at FedEx Corp (FDX.N) sued the U.S. package delivery company on Tuesday, claiming it improperly classifies them as independent contractors rather than employees.
The suit is the latest in a long-running dispute between FedEx and some of its truck drivers, who are seeking union representation. Truck drivers at larger rival United Parcel Service Inc (UPS.N) are represented by the Teamsters.
The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court in Boston and seeks class-action status, contends the degree of control FedEx exerts over its drivers -- including setting rules on uniforms and equipment -- amounts to an employer-employee relationship, not a customer-contractor relationship.
Currently, only the roughly 4,200 pilots employed by the Memphis, Tennessee-based company’s air express unit are unionized. Overall, FedEx employs about 125,000 people in the United States.
Analysts say the independent contractor model for truckers provides FedEx a competitive advantage over UPS.
The lead plaintiff in the suit is David Duval of Acushnet, Massachusetts. The suits seeks an injunction changing the independent contractor classification and monetary damages.
“This attorney has filed complaints with virtually identical allegations multiple times. Only the names have been changed,” said Fedex spokesman Maury Lane. In the past the company has said it believes the independent contractor model is justified.
Just last week, a U.S. district court in the Northern District of Indiana agreed with FedEx.
In an opinion applicable to the class-action cases filed against the company in federal court, Judge Robert Miller Jr. said that while FedEx may control the days the drivers work, enforce appearance and vehicle standards and monitor performance, the workers were still independent contractors -- not employees.
“When all reasonable inferences are drawn in plaintiffs’ favor, the evidence is insufficient to show that FedEx retained the right to control the plaintiffs and direct the manner in which they performed their work,” Miller wrote.
“Accordingly, while there are facts pointing to FedEx’s right to control, they don’t raise to the level of control necessary to show employee status.”
The latest case is David Duval v. FedEx Ground Package System, U.S. District Court, District of Massachusetts, No. 10-11409. (Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Andre Grenon, Steve Orlofsky and Bernard Orr)