Life and Death on the Warehouse Floor

I felt alone. I thought it was only happening to me. Then, this past April, when courageous women I used to work with came forward with stories of sexism and gender discrimination at the Verizon warehouse, I got the courage to say #MeToo.

I started working at the warehouse in Memphis, Tennessee when I was 19 years old. Back then, it was operated by New Breed Logistics, a company that set a grueling pace and allowed horror stories to unfold in its facilities. The conditions were so terrible that I suffered two miscarriages; my first was so severe that I had to put the fetus in a Ziploc bag right there on the warehouse floor and take it to the hospital. When I was pregnant again at 29 years old, New Breed was no longer in charge, but XPO Logistics, which purchased the company, repeatedly ignored my doctor’s note requiring lighter work—and I collapsed on warehouse floor and miscarried again.

Others miscarried, too, under the conditions. This summer, 19-year-old Ceedria Walker miscarried at the same Verizon XPO facility, at the same young age I was hired at. Her OB-GYN had penned a letter saying she could not lift anything above 15 pounds, but her supervisor continued to assign her to carry boxes that weighed up to 45 pounds.

You might not have heard of the $15 billion global logistics giant XPO Logistics, but you probably have heard of the companies like Verizon, Disney and Cummins that XPO workers package and distribute products for. Now you’ll also be hearing a lot more from workers like me who are speaking up to tell the story of our employer’s abusive treatment.

The work at XPO warehouses is carried on the shoulders of black women who are sexually harassed, bullied and discriminated against, and it’s time for us to come forward so their clients fully understand the conditions their products are handled in. I’m sure I am not alone. The conditions inside are dangerous even if you’re not pregnant. We have been spoken down to, shoved, grabbed and kissed by our superiors. Temperatures soar to triple digits, but workers that speak up about the heat are only given popsicles; one woman, Linda Neal, even died on the warehouse floor.

Most of the workers on the floors of XPO warehouses that dot the outskirts of Memphis are black women working to support our families while clocking seemingly endless shifts. I worked in that warehouse seven days a week, 14 to 16 hours a day, lifting heavy boxes. My supervisor set the pace and told me to keep lifting, or else I’d lose my job; when I handed my boss the doctors’ note requiring light duty assignments and 8-hour workday during the pregnancy after my first miscarriage, he told me to get an abortion. Ultimately, they told me I could leave after 8 hours, but I’d receive a point every time I did so—and at XPO, when you receive a certain number of points, you get fired.

When XPO took over from New Breed, it inherited New Breed’s issues, including the legacy of a $1.5 million fine and an order from the EEOC to curb abuse. Instead, XPO managers continue to engage in harassment and discrimination. Verizon is responsible, too; they have been the customer at the warehouse for at least a decade and turned a blind eye for far too long. It is time XPO and its corporate clients are held accountable, and fix the problems once and for all.

This month, workers at XPO’s Verizon facility led a delegation to demand changes. Community organizations active in the #MeToo movement, Tennessee Representative Steve Cohen and Memphis NAACP joined the delegation to deliver a letter calling on XPO to formally investigate and clean house. Rather than listening, management locked them out of the building.

This can’t go on. We won’t be silenced, and we won’t be ignored. Dozens of women who also have worked or are working at XPO are pulling back the curtain on the rampant sexual harassment, gender and pregnancy discrimination on the warehouse floors. Many of us have filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

We are demanding our stories be acknowledged and we are demanding change. #TimesUp, Verizon—and #TimesUp, XPO.

Chasisty Bee is a former XPO Logistics employee at the Verizon warehouse in Memphis, Tennessee. She is the proud mother of six children, including the two she miscarried while at the Memphis Verizon facility.