Anyone who has spent time in East Hampton Village during working hours has probably run across Barry Gilliam, the affable FedEx guy who goes about his duties with a smile on his face and an attention to service that his customers say is all too rare.
So when a different FedEx contractor showed up instead on Mr. Gilliam’s route Friday and customers learned that Mr. Gilliam’s contract with the company had ended, they were “flabbergasted,” said Mary Croghan of the East Hampton Business Service, an authorized FedEx shipper.
By Saturday evening, Joi Jackson Perle of Wainscott had started a Facebook page, We Want Barry Gilliam Reinstated at FedEx Ground. It had 500 members by midday Sunday and nearly 1,300 by yesterday morning. On Monday, Ms. Croghan put together a petition urging FedEx Ground to reconsider the termination of Mr. Gilliam’s contract. Customers have been flooding FedEx’s Holbrook office with complaints, which are now being routed to a FedEx office outside Pittsburgh, and members of the Facebook page have been calling for a local boycott of the company.
“This was a fellow that was a sterling representative of that mark,” Ms. Croghan said Tuesday. His work, she said, was “superlative.”
FedEx drivers on the South Fork are independent contractors who own their routes and own or lease their own trucks and vans. Mr. Gilliam has two trucks and worked with another driver to cover East Hampton Village, Wainscott, and a few stops in Bridgehampton. An East Hampton native who now lives in Calverton, he has been working a South Fork route for FedEx for 11 years.
This summer, he learned that his corporation, Barry Gilliam Inc., was out of compliance with FedEx’s requirements for independent contractors. His station manager in Holbrook gave him “a certain amount of time to try to get the corp. into compliance,” Mr. Gilliam said Monday, but he couldn’t look into the issues “given it was the busiest time of year.” He did not describe the issues, but said he was told by a third party that he probably wouldn’t have enough time to work them out before the deadline. He requested an extension, but the manager in Holbrook “couldn’t do it,” Mr. Gilliam said.
Other reports on the termination of his contract attribute it to a question of which type of corporation Barry Gilliam Inc. was registered as — a C corporation or an S corporation, which is exempt from some New York State corporate taxes.
“FedEx Ground values and appreciates the customer relationships built, and service provided by, Barry Gilliam and his company,” Erin Truxal, a FedEx representative, wrote in a statement to the press. “Customer feedback and superior service is an essential part of our business. Independent contractors agree to provide more than that level of service. Independent contractors must be incorporated and remain in good standing in the state where they do business.”
“The issue here was not whether Barry Gilliam Inc. was registered as an S corporation or a C corporation,” the statement said. “Either are acceptable. Out of respect for Barry Gilliam, we are not sharing all of the details of the situation; however, there were a number of issues that have not been shared regarding Barry Gilliam Inc. and the reason FedEx Ground stopped doing business with the company.”
Ms. Truxal wrote that Mr. Gilliam had “many chances and months to correct the problems” and “ample opportunity” to sell the business before his contract was terminated.
If he could resolve the problems, he would “in a heartbeat,” Mr. Gilliam said. “This is what I do.” Despite the overwhelming support from his customers and their efforts on his behalf, Mr. Gilliam seems resigned to his fate. His manager “did the right thing on his end,” he said Monday, but added, “In my defense, this was like the busiest time of year for me, and my first priority is trying to take care of my customers. I’m contracted . . . to get packages where they have to get. I did that.”
“He did it really, really well, diligently and efficiently, and he was so generous in terms of his service,” Ms. Croghan said. Before he took over the route, her business sent everything but overnight packages by UPS. “He’s the guy who really developed the trade here,” she said. He is a hard worker from a blue-collar background who put his customers first, she said, and “it’s easy to understand why he failed at the administrative aspect.”
But to his supporters, who relied on his efficiency and were buoyed by his good humor, the corporate matters carry little water. They have left hundreds of comments on the We Want Barry Gilliam Reinstated Facebook page extolling his virtues and lamenting his absence.
“I am appalled that FedEx would treat such a wonderful man like this,” wrote Julie Reidel Kelley, the pharmaceutical buyer for the Veterinary Clinic of East Hampton, who said the entire clinic is registering a complaint with FedEx.
“So he missed a deadline. He didn’t miss promoting your corporation by delivering your packages and pickups on time in a friendly manner that any other corporation would appreciate,” posted James Robert Vece.
And Mark Smith, an owner of Nick and Toni’s, Rowdy Hall, La Fondita, and Townline BBQ restaurants, wrote, “Barry was their best brand ambassador and a great, pleasant, hard-working person.”
“He’s such an important person and is so loved and is such a hard worker,” said Donna Hadjipopov, whose company Bulgar manufactures textiles and pottery and has a warehouse in East Hampton. “I’ve hired hundreds of people in my life and he’s a very rare person,” she said. She stuck with FedEx because of Mr. Gilliam, but if he is not reinstated, she will cancel her account, she said. “Out here, you have someone like Barry, who barely has anyplace to park, but he deals with everybody with a smile on his face.”
“He’s kind of a part of your day, like your favorite coffee shop,” said Ms. Jackson Perle, who grew up with Mr. Gilliam. “Despite having the Hamptons tag, which I hate, we are a small town,” she said, and one that will fight for someone who is such a part of the community.
Ms. Croghan wants to get the petition to FedEx by today, before the company can consider selling Mr. Gilliam’s route.
“I can’t even put into words how I feel,” Mr. Gilliam said Monday. “I have a smile on my face and I feel really, really, really good, when I should be feeling depressed. It lifts me to no end.” Mr. Gilliam said he feels as though he disappointed his customers.
“I love what I do,” he said. Nothing his customers requested was ever a hassle for him, he said. His attitude was always “I’m going to try to do it the best way that I can to please the customer.”
He knew two weeks ago that his contract was coming to an end last Thursday, but said nothing to his regulars. “I didn’t want to have to go through the hurt and tell them goodbye,” he said.
He is thinking about selling his two trucks to someone at the terminal in Holbrook, but said, “I hope I’m back in the driver’s seat someday.”