Advocates are Demanding That Verizon Ensure Fair Supply Chains for Women Workers

Reports of rampant sexual harassment and pregnancy discrimination have spurred investigations into the abuse of women workers who package and ship Verizon’s phones. As their findings come to the fore, advocates are now calling for action.

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XPO Logistics workers and allied organizations nationwide sent a powerful message to @verizon CEO Hans Vestberg and Board of Directors today, alerting customers at Verizon stores to mistreatment in the company’s supply chain. Following months of worker complaints, legal filings and an explosive New York Times exposé, XPO workers and community members greeted Verizon customers at over a dozen stores across the country on Thursday with information and next steps. The actions alerted Verizon customers nationwide to egregious abuse of workers at the company’s Memphis, Tenn. distribution center, and invited them to tell Verizon “we want fair supply chains now.” Coordinated nationwide actions were held at Verizon stores in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Houston, Memphis, TN as well as in Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. #Teamsters are proud to stand with XPO workers and allied organizations against inhumane, abusive workplace conditions in the warehouses. #HearUsNow #WeAreXPO

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Sexual harassment has been a problem at the Memphis warehouse for Verizon subcontractor XPO Logistics for years. In 2010, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission opened an investigation into sexual harassment and retaliation at the facility, then owned by New Breed Logistics. A jury later awarded four employees more than $1.5 million of damages to the victims.

In two suits filed last April, eight women working at the warehouse alleged that their male supervisors groped, sexually propositioned and harassed them. One recalled her boss offering her a peppermint, then reaching down and grabbing her breast when he put it in her hand. Another says her boss once grabbed her buttocks as he walked by with a colleague; when she reported the harassment to human resources, he retaliated against her by falsely writing her up for not working. The harassment is also often racialized: The majority of workers in the warehouse are African American women, and the supervisors are largely white men. One white male supervisor called one worker his “chocolate baby.”

Verizon launched an investigation in May—after representatives from Tennessee NAACP, NAACP Memphis Branch, National Women’s Law Center, A Better Balance, Sister Reach and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters wrote an open letter to CEO Lowell C. McAdams and the Board of Directors calling on them to address the pervasive sexual harassment and misconduct taking place on the warehouse floor.

“They’re getting the same kind of racist pathetic treatment that people in the South got for generations,” said Gloria Sweet-Love, president of the NAACP in Tennessee. “These eight women are just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many more. Everybody in there is being mistreated and overworked.” 

In October, a New York Times exposé also revealed brutal treatment of pregnant workers at the XPO warehouse. Multiple women had lost pregnancies after being forced to lift heavy boxes and work long hours at the facility. In response, nine U.S. Senators, led by Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), wrote XPO Logistics to demand an explanation. Earlier this month, 97 U.S. representatives called for a Congressional investigation; on the same day, XPO Logistics announced a new pregnancy accommodation policy.

“It shouldn’t have taken months of advocacy and public pressure to get XPO to change its pregnancy accommodation policy. While we are heartened by this change, the proof will be in the implementation and we will be monitoring it,” said Dina Bakst, Co-President and Co-Founder of A Better Balance. “Verizon must act to ensure that the new policy is followed and stop the horrifying abuse of female warehouse workers in its supply chain.” 

XPO’s contract with Verizon is worth tens of millions of dollars. Activists are continuing to put pressure on Verizon to address these conditions in its supply chain. In an open letter dated December 7 to Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg and the Verizon Board of Directors, advocates wrote a follow-up to their May 2 letter calling for a meeting between them and the company.

“Far too often, Black women experience sexual and reproductive oppression, are exploited and forced to work under unsafe and unethical conditions,” says Cherisse Scott, CEO and Founder of the Tennessee-based reproductive justice organization SisterReach. “Verizon must show its commitment to protecting the Black female workers in its supply chain, and that means meeting with the trusted advocates that workers at XPO Logistics have chosen, and hearing their concerns.”

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This morning, #Teamsters at @verizon annual shareholder meeting in Seattle stood with #XPO Memphis warehouse workers to address rampant sexual harassment allegations at the Memphis warehouse. Eight women have accused nine different supervisors of sexual harassment at a Verizon contracted facility run by XPO Logistics. “We’re here to shine a light on a dark, dark place at XPO and Verizon's supply chain in Memphis – on the sexual harassment and discrimination and retaliation we face every day”-Tasha Murrell, XPO warehouse worker "Verizon, you say you care about your customers – start with the people that are pushing the product out to your customers. #Timesup!" -Lakiesha Nelson, XPO warehouse worker. #MeToo #WeAreXPO @nationalwomenslawcenter @naacp @sagaftra @a_better_balance @itfglobal @sisterreach #1u

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Then workers and activists took to the streets, protesting at over a dozen Verizon stories across the country. In Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Houston, Memphis, TN as well as in Florida, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, and Washington, D.C., they informed customers about the egregious abuse of workers at the Memphis distribution center and invited them to tell Verizon “we want fair supply chains now.”

“No one should have to choose between a paycheck and a healthy pregnancy, or bear the risk of being sexually harassed at work,” says Emily Martin, Vice President for Education & Workplace Justice at the National Women’s Law Center.  “Congress must pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and companies like XPO and Verizon should not only conduct an investigation, but immediately fulfill their urgent responsibility to address and prevent harassment and discrimination in their workforces and in their supply chains.”

To let Verizon know how you feel, you can reach Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg at
hans.vestberg@verizon.com
or call customer service at 1-800-837-4966. 

Carrie Baker is Professor and Director of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College.

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