Logistics Giant Servicing Amazon, Walmart, Target Exposed for Unsafe COVID-19 Response, Global Worker Abuses
Workers at XPO Logistics report unsafe working conditions, wage theft, misclassification and dangerous pandemic response in analysis of company’s operations in more than six countries
LONDON — XPO Logistics (NYSE: XPO), a major logistics company that Amazon, Walmart, Target and other popular retailers have relied on to service customers worldwide throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, has been putting its global workforce at heightened risk of contracting and spreading the virus, says a new report released Wednesday by an international coalition of labor groups.
XPO Logistics markets itself as a global leader in providing transport, logistics and last mile delivery services. It provides these services to internationally-recognized companies, including Amazon, ASOS, Home Depot, IKEA, Nestle, Peloton, Starbucks, Target, Verizon and Walmart. XPO operates in 30 countries with 97,000 employees and 1,506 locations. XPO reported more than $16 billion in total revenue in 2019, and its billionaire CEO, Bradley Jacobs, made $26 million the same year.
The report is the first to examine the logistics company’s treatment of thousands of workers worldwide. In addition to revealing a negligent COVID-19 response and deadly outbreaks in its facilities, the report details how XPO subjects its employees to wage theft and exploitation, hazardous work environments riddled with health and safety violations, pregnancy and gender discrimination, sexual harassment and extreme anti-union tactics.
“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.”
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 after years of trying to work with XPO to improve its working conditions and as the pandemic raised concerns about the company’s lack of protections for workers. The report is based on surveys of and interviews with employees, financial disclosures from the company and news reports.
A summary of key findings is below.
Failed COVID-19 response
Many well-known brands that have allowed people to stay at home comfortably and safely have gotten public scrutiny for their COVID-19 response. XPO, whose essential workforce has helped keep these companies operating, has stayed under the radar while putting its employees at risk. Across the globe, employees cite inadequate access to PPE and a lack of basic cleaning and social distancing measures.
- In the United Kingdom, workers were “terrified” after 64 workers contracted COVID-19 at an XPO facility in Swindon in July and the company refused to quarantine the facility. At an XPO/ASOS facility in Barnsley with 4,000 employees, 98% of respondents to a survey said they felt unsafe at work. It took nine workers testing positive for COVID-19 in May for the company to close down the facility for a deep cleaning.
- In Fleury-Mérogis, France, an XPO warehouse worker died of COVID-19, leaving behind a husband and two children. Workers at the facility removed their labor in March, expressing concerns over a lack of proper PPE and demanded the company ensure physical distancing. The withdrawal of labor forced the company to introduce temperature checks and increased cleaning. In May, the company paid the deceased worker’s husband 15,000 euros in what he believes was an attempt to keep him quiet.
- In the U.S., a national survey of XPO workers showed that 60% of respondents said they felt unsafe at work. XPO drivers at a facility in Kansas City, Kansas, also made headlines in April, raising concerns about the lack of cleaning of shared equipment, such as trucks and forklifts, and a failure to enforce social distancing in company break rooms.
“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,” said Bryon Wilkinson, a Pennsylvania-based XPO freight driver who delivers shipments to Walmart and Sam’s Club. “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.”
Wage theft and exploitation through the misclassification of workers
Misclassification of truck drivers at XPO is rampant in the U.S. and Europe.
- In California, where the company’s practice of misclassifying truck drivers is widespread, XPO uses a mobile app for drivers to bid on work and classifies them as subcontractors, similar to the models used by Uber and Lyft. Misclassified drivers struggle with extreme poverty and homelessness because of the company’s policies. They do not have access to paid sick leave, health insurance or other basic assurances that are particularly critical during the pandemic. Drivers have reported that if they get sick, their contracts are terminated and they are fired.
- In Europe, the company exploits workers and skirts minimum wage laws through a subcontracting scheme: a company contracts transport to XPO; XPO contracts it to a French subcontractor as one example; and the French subcontractor then subcontracts again to a company in an Eastern European country. In this example, despite transporting goods primarily from France to the U.K., workers are paid, for example, Lithuanian wages, and forced to live in their trucks for months on end as their employers ignore their pleas to return home.
- One Russian driver who works for a Lithuanian company that does ad-hoc transportation for XPO and carries out domestic transport in France for a company sub-contracted by XPO said he receives only 50 euro per day despite driving in France and receiving a fraudulent French document from his employer stating he earns 10.3 euro per hour. This driver and others in XPO’s subcontractor network are on the road for many months and live – illegally and out of necessity due to low pay – in their truck cabins.
Health and safety violations create dangerous work environments
In the U.S., at least three XPO workers have died at work in shocking incidents. In Europe there have been numerous complaints about horrifying working conditions for warehouse workers and drivers.
- In 2017, Linda Neal, an XPO worker at a Verizon warehouse in Memphis, passed away from cardiac arrest on the floor of the warehouse, where workers had complained about overheating and horrendous working conditions.
- In 2018, in Buffalo, New York, federal regulators imposed the maximum allowable fine on XPO after two workers were crushed to death by over 3629 kg of countertop material.
- Workers at the XPO/ASOS facility in the U.K. raised complaints about timed bathroom breaks, invasive security checks and exhausting production targets.
- XPO employees at a facility in Guadalajara, Spain said they felt unsafe at work for various reasons, including machinery and the warehouse in disrepair, a failure to provide proper health and safety training, and a failure to act when safety hazards are identified.
Rampant pregnancy discrimination, gender discrimination and sexual harassment
XPO enables a toxic workplace culture globally of gender and pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment.
- A 2018 New York Times exposé told the stories of multiple women who miscarried and were subjected to horrific pregnancy discrimination at a Memphis XPO/Verizon warehouse. One of the women was told to get an abortion by her supervisor. When they complained about the lack of air conditioning in the overheated facility and requested jobs with less heavy lifting, the company refused to accommodate them.
- A FeSMC-UGT (Spain) report 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.
- In Italy, XPO has failed to produce a legally required equality report.
- In the U.K., the 2019 XPO UK Gender Pay Gap report admitted to a significant increase in the gender pay gap for the company’s supply chain and bulk operations, the latter reaching a 29% difference between men and women.
Widespread anti-union tactics
XPO Logistics maintains an aggressive anti-union stance in the U.S., while workers in Spain with union affiliation have been discriminated against and workers in Switzerland denied legal rights to collectively bargain:
- In the U.S., workers have filed a total of 120 unfair labor practice (ULP) charges since 2014 with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against XPO. A 2018 report from Lafe Solomon, a former acting general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), states that ULP charges allege that XPO has violated the National Labor Relations Act.
- In four U.S. facilities where workers voted to form a union, XPO unlawfully withheld annual wage increases while giving them to non-union employees in other facilities. XPO subsequently paid over $500,000 in back pay to these workers.
- Union members in Spain have reported being overlooked for promotions, kept on insecure contracts (instead of being converted to permanency), and have had their hours restricted.
- In Switzerland, the company refused to meet and negotiate with union representatives about workers participating in collective bargaining until the workers went on strike for three weeks.
A blueprint to stop rampant worker abuse
The report authors outline actions XPO can take to provide safe working environments for employees and set new safety standards for the logistics industry as it navigates the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 agreement to research, design and implement gender action programs to ensure gender equality and women’s empowerment in XPO workplaces;
- Set up a global health and safety forum with unions to form joint working groups to support workers during the COVID-19 crisis and other serious health and safety issues;
- Ensure adequate protections, including adjustment of work schedules, with no loss of earnings for vulnerable and at-risk workers;
- Engage in good faith with the local unions on the ground in every country in which it operates and end its anti-union culture.
The XPO Global Union Family is led by The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), The European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF), and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), and includes the following unions and worker organizations: ABVV-BTB (Belgium), ACV-CSC Transcom (Belgium), CGT Transports (France), FeSMC-UGT (Spain), FGTE-CFDT (France), GMB (Britain), Uiltrasporti (Italy), Unia (Switzerland), Unite (Britain) and UNSA Transport (France).
The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) is a democratic global union federation of nearly 700 transport workers trade unions representing around 20 million workers in 150 countries. The ITF works to improve the lives of transport workers globally, encouraging and organising international solidarity among its network of affiliates. The ITF represents the interests of transport workers’ unions in bodies that take decisions affecting jobs, employment conditions and safety in the transport industry.
The European Transport Workers’ Federation (ETF) embraces transport trade unions from the European Union, the European Economic Area, and Central and Eastern Europe. The ETF represents more than 5 million transport workers from more than 200 transport unions and 41 European countries.
Founded in 1903, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters represents 1.4 million hardworking men and women throughout the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. Visit www.teamster.org for more information. Follow us on Twitter @Teamsters and “like” us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/teamsters.