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XPO Faces Allegations of Botched Covid Response, Wage Theft

XPO Logistics is the subject of a bombshell report, catching heat from its unionized employees for what they have deemed an unsafe work environment that alleges everything from a negligent Covid-19 response and deadly outbreaks in its facilities, to wage theft and exploitation to gender pay gaps to sexual harassment among various other claims.

The XPO Global Union Family—composed of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), the European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), along with other national unions—compiled the report based on surveys of and interviews with employees, financial disclosures from the company and news reports.

In a statement, an XPO Logistics spokesperson told Sourcing Journal “the report repeats wholly inaccurate allegations that have been entirely debunked.”

One of the largest logistics companies in the world, powering the back-end transport, logistics and delivery for Amazon, Asos, Home Depot, Ikea, Nestle, Peloton, Starbucks, Target, Verizon and Walmart, XPO has a broad reach, operating in 30 countries with 97,000 employees and 1,506 locations. Amazon itself has contended with coronavirus outbreak primarily within its warehouse and distribution ranks, with confirmed and suspected infections topping 19,000.

“Deaths. Discrimination. Wage theft. Sexual Harassment. Health and safety violations. Covid-19 exposure. The list of allegations that XPO has to answer goes on and on, crossing borders to countries spanning the globe,” said Stephen Cotton, general secretary at International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF). “XPO may be under the radar, but its far-reaching human rights abuses must be exposed. XPO’s workers are risking it all during the pandemic with little support from the executives who are profiting off the backs of their labor. As a global union community we will hold XPO and its customers responsible for the health and safety of its workforce.”

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The report cites that worldwide, the company’s “failed Covid-19 response” started with employees claiming they have inadequate access to PPE, in addition to a lack of basic cleaning and social-distancing measures.

In the U.S., a national survey of XPO workers showed that 60 percent of respondents said they felt unsafe at work. One U.S. facility in Kansas City, Kan., raised concerns about shared equipment such as trucks and forklifts not being cleaned and a failure to enforce social distancing in company break rooms.

Bryon Wilkinson, a Pennsylvania-based XPO freight driver who delivers shipments to Walmart and Sam’s Club, said his facility hasn’t done enough to ensure safety on its grounds.

“Even after our manager tested positive for Covid-19, there aren’t morning temperature checks, mask wearing hasn’t been enforced, and we don’t have cleaning products to sanitize shared trucks,” Wilkinson said. “I worry about contracting Covid-19 every time I step into my truck, especially since my wife works in a nursing home and I’m high-risk. Your Amazon Prime packages arrive on time and your Walmart has toilet paper and hand sanitizer because of XPO workers. We are out there delivering goods to help people get through this crisis, and XPO can’t deliver basic protections for those of us risking it all.”

The situation appeared to be even more contentious in the U.K., with the report saying workers were “terrified” after 64 employees contracted Covid-19 at an XPO facility in the English town of Swindon in July and the company refused to quarantine the facility.

At an XPO/Asos facility in Barnsley, England, with 4,000 employees, 98 percent of survey respondents said they didn’t feel safe at work. The report says it took nine workers testing positive for Covid-19 in May for the company to close down the facility for a deep cleaning.

The report also points to a warehouse worker’s death in Fleury-Mérogis, France. In March, employees at the facility didn’t report to work, expressing concerns over a lack of proper PPE and demanding the company ensure physical distancing. The withdrawal of labor forced the company to introduce temperature checks and increased cleaning. In May, XPO paid the deceased worker’s husband 15,000 euros ($17,657) in what he believes was an attempt to keep him quiet.

XPO says on its website that it is taking precautions to help prioritize employee safety including implementing social distancing measures, offering two weeks of pandemic paid sick leave, free Covid-19 testing, additional cleaning measures inside its workplaces, accommodations for pregnant employees, free mental and emotional counseling sessions for all U.S. employees and online health and safety programs in seven languages.

The company even released a report called “Essential Support for Essential Workers” for other logistics companies that highlights best practices and risk mitigation actions identified during the Covid-19 pandemic to support distribution center employees and keep them safe.

However, the XPO Global Union Family makes allegations beyond Covid-19-related safety. At least overseas, news of a wage gap persisted, with the 2019 XPO U.K. Gender Pay Gap report even admitting to a significant increase in the gender pay gap for the company’s supply chain and bulk operations, the latter reaching a 29 percent difference between men and women.

Spain’s XPO Global Union Family representative organization FeSMC-UGT found that in XPO warehouses in Guadalajara, women were paid less than men, denied the same opportunities for promotion as men and women who became pregnant did not have their temporary work contracts renewed. And in Italy, XPO has failed to produce a legally required equality report.

The report also alleges that misclassification of truck drivers at XPO is rampant in the U.S. and Europe, which enables the logistics giant to allegedly skirt wage laws and hold back on providing additional benefits typically given to full-time employees.

But this isn’t the first time the company has come under scrutiny. Charges of an unsafe and dangerous workplace at XPO fulfillment centers occurred well before the pandemic. In the U.S., at least three XPO workers have died on the job. In Europe there have been numerous complaints about troubling working conditions for warehouse workers and drivers.

In October of 2018, the New York Times ran a front-page story that detailed the stories of numerous women who had miscarried and one woman who collapsed and died from a heart attack at a Verizon fulfillment center operated by XPO in Memphis, Tenn. According to the report, XPO had routinely ignored requests for pregnancy accommodations for its workers, with one of the women was allegedly told by her supervisor to get an abortion.

The article sparked outcry from nine U.S. senators and 97 members of Congress, and XPO agreed to implement a new policy, giving parents six weeks of paid leave at 100 percent compensation. But even with this updated policy, the XPO Global Union Family’s recent report alleges that the policy falls short of protecting its pregnant workers because it lacks any enforcement mechanism.

The report authors outline actions XPO can take to provide safe working environments for employees and set new safety standards for the logistics industry.

They are calling on XPO to respond to invitations to meet with the XPO Global Union Family to discuss, negotiate and establish labor protocols to protect workers’ rights at the global level, including an agreement to research, design and implement gender action programs to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment in XPO workplaces.

The coalition also wants to set up a global health and safety forum with unions to form joint working groups to support workers during the Covid-19 crisis and throughout other serious health and safety issues.

Additionally, the coalition is seeking to ensure adequate employee protections, including adjustment of work schedules, with no loss of earnings for vulnerable and at-risk workers. Finally, they are hoping that XPO is willing to engage in good faith with the local unions on the ground in every country in which it operates and end what it calls its “anti-union culture.”

XPO Logistics operates more than 300 locations in the United States, yet only seven of those facilities have successfully unionized, and none of them have successfully ratified a union contract.

According to a Teamsters report written by Lafe Solomon, a former acting general counsel of National Labor Relations Board, between 2014 and 2018, XPO workers in the U.S. have filed at least 120 unfair labor practices charges against the company, alleging that it violated their rights to collectively bargain and organize. Meanwhile, during that four-year period, XPO paid $500,000 in back wages to workers in unionized facilities where the company has refused to bargain.

The XPO Global Union Family includes several other international unions and worker organizations: ABVV-BTB (Belgium), ACV-CSC Transcom (Belgium), CGT Transports (France), FGTE-CFDT (France), GMB (Britain), Uiltrasporti (Italy), Unia (Switzerland), Unite (Britain) and UNSA Transport (France).

The report comes only one week after the logistics company said it will close a distribution center in Jenkins Township, Penn., and eliminate all 111 jobs at the facility by November. The company still has 10,000 seasonal job openings across its fulfillment centers for the holiday season.