A FedEx warehouse worker in central Florida said they’ve been given T-shirts to use as face masks. A package handler in Philadelphia said they were given gloves but no masks, and that managers have been writing up employees who call out sick. That worker knows a driver tested positive for COVID-19, but says management won’t tell them which truck it was on. A FedEx Ground worker in Georgia says they were given a package of hand sanitizer wipes recently and a temporary $2 an hour raise, but there was no mention of masks or gloves.
“I’m terrified,” the Georgia worker wrote to VICE. “But this is my only source of income.”
Package handlers across the country have spoken to news outlets about their safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, as volume mounts and workers struggle to keep up with both demand and working conditions unlike anything they’ve ever seen. Earlier this week, workers at both UPS and FedEx told NBC News that rumors are flying among the more than half a million people who work for the two services, as illnesses and even deaths increase among drivers and other workers. FedEx confirmed to NBC that one of their pilots died from the disease, and the news outlet confirmed that two employees from Worldport, UPS’ air hub in Kentucky, both died from the disease. But workers told NBC they’re being “kept in the dark” over who is sick, hampering their ability to keep themselves safe.
Meanwhile, workers in FedEx facilities from Sydney, Australia to Memphis, Tennessee tell VICE they’re still concerned about a lack of protective gear and potential exposure to COVID-19. Their messages are still flooding in, weeks after CEO Frederick W. Smith went on Face the Nation to claim that FedEx workers are being given “gloves and all kinds of antiseptic swabs and things of that nature.” Smith claimed there were “massive efforts underway” in all FedEx facilities to “socially distance” both workers and their workstations. Workers on the ground tell us that effort is often intermittent, at best.
In all, about 30 workers have contacted VICE. (All have been granted anonymity because they fear being fired or retaliated against.) They were spurred to write after seeing a story about a worker at a Wisconsin FedEx facility who told VICE that workers there hadn’t been provided masks or gloves, and that work-issued bottles of hand sanitizer were soon empty. Video from the warehouse where they work bolstered their claims.
At the time, a FedEx spokesperson told us, “FedEx is actively working to provide and replenish supplies of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and personal protective equipment such as latex gloves and masks in accordance with guidance from the CDC, WHO and other public health organizations.” They added, “In anticipation of changes to CDC guidance surrounding face masks, the sourcing team has secured enough surgical masks for our North American workforce for a month.”
Workers across the country told a different story.
“I read the article and it's so true,” a FedEx Ground worker in Phoenix wrote via email. “We have not been provided anything, our work conditions are still next to each other, no gloves no masks no hand sanitizer. It's awful.”
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“That FedEx article is so true, nothing is being done to protect us in those buildings,” wrote a worker in Indianapolis, Indiana. “They have one hand sanitizer pump in the entrance of the building and one way in the back of the building. No individual pumps of sanitizer given no gloves no Lysol spray no individual or commercial wipes for the machines or for the equipment we have to use or anything. There is also no way we can stay 6 feet apart in the facility. Yes, it’s a big building but the work area is too tight to be 6 feet apart.”
Workers at locations across the United States, and at FedEx’s gateway facility into Australia in Sydney, also told VICE that while the availability of personal protective equipment seems to vary widely by facility, masks, particularly, are basically unheard of. The worker in Central Florida wrote on April 6, “We only have two hand sanitizer dispensers in the entire facility, located at opposite ends of the building. Our hand washing sinks are inadequate, to say the least. They look to be leftover from an elementary school, with only half of the faucets functioning. No gloves are provided, and they have only recently (like, today) started offering t-shirts converted to scarves as face coverings.”
A worker at the Sydney facility agreed. “We’re not getting gloves or masks,” they said. “The Wisconsin story is identical to ours. I thought the problems at our facility was due to our managers. But hearing the Wisconsin story, it sounds more like it’s a FedEx policy.”
The Sydney worker is also particularly concerned about the package handlers who unload the planes that come in from the U.S. Two workers typically stand in small cargo containers together, full of boxes, pushing them down rollers to be scanned. “Shifts are like 10 hours, and they’re working even longer than that, breathing in each other’s air,” they told us.
There are some signs of progress, however. The Wisconsin worker who spoke to VICE for our original story tells us that their working conditions changed the day after the piece was published. “That morning they told us we were getting a $2 increase, not due to hazard pay but due to volume increase,” they told us this week. “It’s for one month, until May 5, I think.” Workers were also provided a box of latex gloves, and the hand sanitizer bottles are still present, they added, “though I noticed they have not been filled on a regular basis.”
The warehouse also placed laminated signs on the floor about six feet apart, reminding workers to maintain that distance.
“None of it is actually followed,” the Wisconsin worker told us. “Because it can’t be. We work in such a fast-paced environment that it’s just not possible. We’re going to come into contact with people.”
The Wisconsin worker stressed that some contractors have operated differently. These are the companies that own the van lines that FedEx drivers work for, meaning that the drivers are independent contractors who don’t work for FedEx directly. “There are certain contractors who are amazing for their drivers and have been supplying everything - some of them came in today with masks,” the Wisconsin worker said. “We don’t have those.” They’ve been told the masks are on order. “They’re blaming it on the short supply, that medical facilities need it more than we do. I agree with that, but that’s inconsistent with what they’re saying they’re doing.” Meanwhile, the worker said, their package volume has increased again, to about 22,000 packages a day, from an average of 5,000 pre-crisis.
FedEx workers across the country confirmed that they, too, have been given a $2 an hour increase, though it’s not cited as hazard pay, but simply as a temporary raise due to the increase in the number of packages they’re handling.
“I'm a package handler,” a Georgia worker told us, last week. “Today I was informed we was getting a 2 dollar raise while this pandemic is happening. But still no mask, gloves, or hand sanitizer was mentioned with the 2 dollar raise.”
The Wisconsin worker said that as the crisis continues, their increased volume seems to be in part attributable to all the stuff people are ordering for their houses to combat pandemic boredom. “We’re mostly redecorating people’s apartments,” the worker said dryly. “There are a lot of swimming pools.”
FedEx didn't respond to a request for comment from VICE by publication time; we'll update this story when they do.
Update, 4:28 P.M. EST:
FedEx sent a statement to VICE, stating, in part, that while they are "working to source and distribute masks, we are following current guidance from the CDC and encouraging anyone who chooses to wear a mask or own personal face covering to do so as an additional precaution." The company previously claimed it had "secured enough surgical masks for our North American workforce for a month.” Their full statement is below.
Due to the great demand for PPE around the world and challenges presented by significant shortages, FedEx has been operating under our emergency supply process. Our dedicated COVID-19 Sourcing Response team has recently secured 2.8 million packages of disinfecting wipes, 42 million pairs of gloves, almost 3 million bottles of hand sanitizer and 7,100 thermometers for the U.S. alone. FedEx has distributed millions of face coverings to our frontline locations. While we are working to source and distribute masks, we are following current guidance from the CDC and encouraging anyone who chooses to wear a mask or own personal face covering to do so as an additional precaution.
We are continuously stocking our facilities with cleaning supplies, gloves and hand sanitizer. If there is a lack of supplies at any location, we ask that employees immediately notify their managers so an order can be placed. We’ve also updated our policies and implemented our emergency supply process which gives our managers the ability to purchase supplies locally if needed.
Each FedEx operating company constantly evaluates its pay policies to ensure we remain competitive with others in our industry under all circumstances, including those we are facing now.
When it comes to social distancing, we’ve taken a number of other steps to support the health and safety of our employees, as well as the customers with whom they interact, and take seriously the guidance provided by the CDC.
· To help adhere to social distancing guidelines, signatures are no longer being required for most deliveries.
· We’re also working to accommodate special requests from customers around modified store hours, closings and delivery alternatives that best comply with government restrictions and safety guidance.
· We are actively promoting social distancing on the job, including measures at security screening and in common areas, as well as changes to work processes where possible.
· We’ve reconfigured break areas and provided additional break areas at some facilities
· Added tape marks on the floor of screening areas to show proper distance (6 ft.) to maintain
· We are staggering work hours at both the start and end of shifts to maintain appropriate social distancing
· Adjusting loading & unloading processes to help maintain distance
· Educating team members about prevention, including hygiene and cleaning, via manager meetings, signage and digital monitors in facilities.
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This article originally appeared on VICE US.