XPO Logistics to close controversial Tennessee facility

February 14, 2019

GREENWICH — Transportation-and-logistics specialist XPO Logistics confirmed Thursday that it will close a facility in Memphis, Tenn., where some employees have made allegations of pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment — but there are conflicting reasons for the shutdown.

The warehouse was investigated last October by The New York Times, with two women reporting that they had miscarriages last year while working at the plant, which processes boxes of iPhones and other devices for Verizon. In a letter distributed Wednesday to workers, XPO said it would start layoffs on April 15 because of an “overall business model change” by Verizon. The Teamsters union, which does not represent the facility’s 400 workers, described the shutdown as retaliation.

“My co-workers and I stood up and exposed the terrible conditions at the XPO-Verizon facility in Memphis, including sexual harassment, dangerous heat, pregnancy discrimination and worker abuses,” Lakeisha Nelson, a worker at the facility, said in a statement sent Wednesday night by Teamsters. “In return, XPO and Verizon are shutting down our facility and cutting our jobs. I will not be intimidated by these corporate bullies.”

XPO responded Thursday in a statement that the company has a “strict no-retaliation policy in place that applies to the company, as well as individuals. We encourage employees to voice concerns — including anonymously — without any fear of reprisal.”

Most of the workers will be able to get new jobs at 11 other XPO facilities in the Memphis area, the statement added. In addition, the firm plans to hire about 80 for a new plant scheduled to open later this year. It would be across the street from the closing warehouse, which has operated at 4895 Citation Drive, in the city’s southeast section, since 2003.

Through the acquisition of the Citation Drive plant’s previous owner, XPO took over the property in late 2014.

Congressional scrutiny

One of the women interviewed by The Times, 19-year-old Ceeadria Walker, said she gave her supervisor a doctor’s note that recommended fewer hours on her feet to avoid injury or pregnancy complications. Walker was allowed to focus on paperwork on some days, but she told The Times she spent most of last July on a conveyor-belt line lifting 45-pound boxes. Last August, she miscarried.

The Times also reported that a 58-year-old worker at the Citation Drive plant died in October 2017 of cardiac arrest on the warehouse floor after complaining to co-workers about feeling sick.

XPO initially disputed the accuracy of The Times article, but then said in early December that it would investigate the reported violations.

Also in early December, the company announced a new policy for the care and support of pregnant workers that includes paid family leave, pregnancy and postpartum benefits, and flexible working arrangements. Eligible workers would receive their regular base wages while they used their accommodations and would still qualify for pay increases during that time.

XPO has faced increasing Congressional attention since The Times’ report came out, as well as others on purported worker mistreatment that were published last fall by the Los Angeles Times and PBS’ “NewsHour.”

Last November, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., joined eight other senators to launch an investigation of XPO.

Two weeks later, nearly 100 Democratic U.S. representatives — including Connecticut’s Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, Elizabeth Esty and John Larson — signed a letter seeking a similar probe.

On Wednesday, XPO announced a new program for U.S. employees and their families that gives them mobile-app access to a network of more than 1,400 health practitioners across 20 specialties, including fertility, lactation, infant sleep, nutrition and mental health. Employees can also sign up with a “personal care coordinator” to support them during and after pregnancy.

In a statement Wednesday, Blumenthal expressed doubts about the impact of the new program, although he said he wanted to keep working with XPO to ensure workers and their families receive the support they need during and after pregnancies.

“Although I appreciate XPO’s stated intent to improve benefits and workplace policies for women and families, this new program still leaves many questions unanswered,” he said. “How many workers will actually benefit? Will access to this app make a meaningful difference if underlying workplace policies remain?”

XPO is headquartered at 5 American Lane, in the northwest corner of Greenwich. It operates in 32 countries, and employs about 98,000. It ranked No. 186 on last year’s Fortune 500 list.

pschott@scni.com; 203-964-2236; twitter: @paulschott