XPO Logistics—one of the ten largest logistics corporations in the world with 97,000 employees at more than 1,500 locations in 30 countries—has long hidden behind the big brands that utilize its shipping and logistics services: Amazon, Target, Walmart, Best Buy, Home Depot, Lowe's, Dollar Tree, Williams-Sonoma, Peloton, Starbucks—the list goes on.
A new report released on Wednesday shines a light on the exploitative and dangerous labor practices the company has utilized across the United States and Europe in recent years, particularly during the ongoing pandemic.
"XPO markets itself as a global leader in providing transport, logistics and last mile delivery services," the report's authors write. "But behind the glossy marketing, are supply chains mired in worker exploitation, a cavalier and even negligent approach to safety that has led to injury and death, and a company where workers who protest against pregnancy discrimination and harassment are met by retaliation."
Researchers from a coalition of 11 unions, collectively known as the XPO Global Union Family, which includes the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in the United States, came together to write the report "Delivering Injustice," which details everything from the company's alleged failure to prevent warehouse workers from spreading COVID-19 in its facilities and shorting workers on pension increases to its contracting of drivers from Eastern Europe who live out of their trucks for months, workplace injuries and subsequent deaths of several workers in recent years on the job, and union-busting tactics that have resulted in $500,000 in National Labor Relations Board settlement fees to workers in the United States.
A XPO spokesperson told Motherboard many of these claims were outdated. “The report repeats wholly inaccurate allegations that have been entirely debunked,” the spokesperson said.
XPO, which is headquartered in Greenwich, Connecticut, facilitates 10 million last mile deliveries each year, outpacing every other logistics company operating in North America, including Amazon, for the last mile delivery of heavy goods. In 2019, XPO reported more than $16 billion in revenue, and its billionaire CEO, Bradley Jacobs, made $26 million.
On it’s website XPO notes that it implemented a number of safety protocols to protect employees during the onset of COVID-19, including social distancing in all of its warehouses, no contact deliveries, free COVID-19 testing, and two weeks of paid sick leave for full-time employees. “Our primary focus is safeguarding our employees,” the company said.
In April, XPO Logistics CEO Jacobs wrote in a letter to shareholders about the impacts of COVID-19 on business, "We’ve deliberately built XPO like a bulletproof tank to surmount all kinds of challenges."
But the report's authors strongly rebuke this statement, stressing that the company sacrificed worker safety to keep up with the demands of its delivery services during the pandemic, and urge the company to release the number of COVID-19 cases in its facilites.
"XPO Logistics should release the number of COVID-19 cases that have been confirmed in its global workforce,” Noel Coard, an author of the report, and the inland transport sections secretary of International Transport Workers Federation, which represents millions of transportation workers across the world, told Motherboard. “[Workers] deserve to know how many of their co-workers have been infected and what the company is doing to make sure no one else is put at unnecessary risk.”
The report claims XPO failed to source its own warehouse workers with masks for weeks. A 64-worker outbreak at its warehouse facility in the United Kingdom in July did not result in a shutdown of the facility. Workers across the United States have described inadequate safety precautions at facilities, including the failures to do deep cleaning and temperatures once positive cases are reported in facilities.
“When the pandemic first started we didn’t have any masks and sanitizer. Now they supposedly got a policy about masks but the guys don’t wear them,” Bryon Wilkinson who has worked as an XPO freight driver for 31 years, told Motherboard. His route runs between Eerie, Pennsylvania and Dunkirk, New York.
“They took our temperate for a few days in the beginning but now they’ve stopped even though people are still testing positive for COVID-19,” he continued. “My worry is that they didn’t require testing for any of us, didn’t say we could get a test, and my wife works in a nursing home. All I need is her carrying it up there.”
"People were incredibly concerned about the speed at which the outbreak at our facility happened," a warehouse worker at the XPO facility in Swindon, United Kingdom that experienced the mass outbreak told Motherboard. Motherboard agreed to grant the worker anonymity because they feared retaliation from XPO. "It went from a couple of cases one day to 70 odd people testing positive. On paper, XPO has a good safety system, but unfortunately no one from management was enforcing it. There was no social distancing being enforced."
"We've had several workers test positive for Coronavirus, but they only do a deep clean once a week, and tell us the chemical they use lasts up to three days if someone tests positive the day after a deep clean," a worker at a XPO facility in Laredo, Texas that handles freight being imported and exported across the U.S.-Mexico border told Motherboard. "They never do temperature checks for workers when someone tests positive."
While XPO Logistics has often remained out of headlines, at least compared to its logistics competitors like Amazon and UPS, the company came under national scrutiny in the United States in October 2018, when the New York Times ran a front page story that detailed the stories of numerous women who had miscarried and one woman who collapsed from a heart attack at a Verizon Fulfillment Center operated by XPO in Memphis, Tennessee. According to the report, XPO had routinely been ignoring requests for pregnancy accommodations for its workers.
"It felt like on a daily basis women were having miscarriages and passing out," Tasha Murrell, one of the workers featured in the New York Times article after she miscarried at the facility, told Motherboard. "My supervisor walked over to me on a very hot day after I filed out a request for [unpaid leave], and said 'why don't you go have an abortion?'“
"Another day I wasn't feeling well and asked for permission to go home early, and my supervisor said, 'I'm going to give you a point for going home early,'" she continued. "Later that day, I had the miscarriage. These companies make billions off our labor and what do we get?"
Murrell now works as an organizer for the Teamsters Local 667.
The article sparked outcry from nine U.S. senators and 97 members of Congress, and XPO agreed to implement a new policy, giving parents 6 weeks of paid leave at 100 percent compensation. The report's authors charge that the company's new policy falls short of protecting its pregnant workers because it lacks any enforcement mechanism.
XPO faces an ongoing gender and racial discrimination lawsuit for firing an African-American woman who left her shift early. The lawsuit alleges the company let workers who were men leave early without any disciplinary action.
A spokesperson for XPO noted that the company’s revamped pregnancy policy has resulted in more than 1,500 accommodations to pregnant employees and approximately 650 employees have taken the paid parental leave.
Union organizers have hoped, especially in the United States, that change could come through the formation of unions. But for years, XPO has maintained an aggressive anti-union stance at its facilities in the United States. Its employee handbook, as of 2017, stated "the Company’s employees have an absolute legal right not to belong to the union."
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—the most important step in achieving new rights and protections for workers—despite several massive union drives. One of those facilities in Laredo, Texas had its union ousted in 2019 after the union failed to ratify a union contract and the company engaged in a hiring spree of anti-union workers.
Since 2014, XPO workers in the United States filed at least 120 unfair labor practices charges against the company, alleging that it violated their rights to collectively bargain and organize. Meanwhile, between 2014 and 2018, XPO paid $500,000 in back wages to workers in unionized facilities where the company has refused to bargain, according to a Teamsters report written by Lafe Solomon, a former acting general counsel of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
"XPO has relied on every tactic to fight unions. They had high level managers making threats that workers wouldn't receive wages [if they voted for the union], they interrogated them, there were discharges," Solomon told Motherboard. "The sheer size and number of charges and complaints against them is quite extraordinary. I don't think there are big companies including Amazon that have had this level of charges and complaints against them with no collective bargaining agreement."
Besides these efforts to unionize workers in the United States, the XPO Global Union Family, which comprises 11 unions that represent XPO workers across the world, has repeatedly asked the company to meet and discuss labor issues at the global level, but they say the company has refused so far.
"XPO calls itself a world leader in logistics but it’s been involved in systematic international abuse when it comes to workers," Coard, the report’s author, and the inland transport sections secretary of International Transport Workers Federation, which represents millions of transportation workers across the world, told Motherboard.
"About 20 years ago, a lot of major companies outsourced their transport operation to companies like XPO," he continued. "A lot of these major brands don't even know the level or extent of exploitation that goes on their supply chains."