In the wake of worker protests against rampant pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment, Verizon subcontractor XPO Logistics announced last week that they are closing their facility in Memphis, Tennessee. Local XPO employees, some of whom will be terminated as early as April 15, are denouncing the decision—and calling out closure as an act of retaliation against them for speaking out about the atrocious conditions they face at work.
“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,” said Lakeisha Nelson, an inventory curator at the Memphis facility. “In return, XPO and Verizon are shutting down our facility and cutting our jobs.”
XPO Logistics denies that the closing was related to the women’s complaints. They have 11 other facilities in the Memphis area, and they’ve said that new jobs are available in these facilities for the “majority” of employees in the closing facility, and that they are opening a new facility in Memphis later this year which will create 80 new jobs. But the timing of this announcement suggests otherwise.
In October, a New York Times exposé revealed brutal treatment of pregnant workers at the XPO’s Memphis facility; multiple women had lost pregnancies after being forced to lift heavy boxes and work long hours at the facility. Nine U.S. Senators wrote letters to XPO and Verizon in November, seeking an explanation of how pregnant workers in Memphis were treated, and in December, nearly 100 members of the U.S. House of Representatives called for an investigation. Meanwhile, XPO workers held protests at over a dozen Verizon stories across the country, informing customers about the egregious abuse of workers at the Memphis warehouse and inviting them to call for fair supply chains from Verizon.
Workers also complained about sexual harassment. In two suits filed last April, eight women working at the warehouse alleged that their male supervisors groped, sexually propositioned and harassed them. Advocates for the workers, including the National Women’s Law Center, SisterReach and A Better Balance, condemned the “toxic culture” at the facility where supervisors subjected workers to “aggressive grabbing and groping” and then retaliated against them for reporting sexual harassment.
The workers, many of whom are African American, also believe that racism plays a role in how they are treated. “The warehouse is closing because management chose to run this place like it’s their personal plantation,” said Nelson, “rather than running it like it’s a company,”
XPO announced the closure of the Memphis distribution center on the same day that it issued a press release stating that the company was expanding health care coverage for new parents, expectant mothers and women experiencing a loss of a pregnancy. In its press release, XPO congratulates itself by claiming to be “setting the standard in its industry,” rubbing salt in the wound.
“XPO wants to talk about how much it cares about pregnant workers, and then it lays off all the workers from the facility that brought these pregnancy problems to light,” said Tasha Murrell, an XPO worker who had a miscarriage on the job. “This should tell you how serious XPO is about changing its ways.”
Federal law prohibits employers from retaliating against workers for opposing pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment or for collectively complaining about workplace conditions, and the Teamsters are considering filing a formal complaint with the National Labor Relations Board about the facility’s closing.
And the women on the XPO floor are fighting back, too. “I will not be intimidated,” declared Nelson, “by these corporate bullies.”
Let XPO and Verizon know that sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination and retaliation is not okay. You can reach XPO Logistics at 1-844-742-5976 or contact them here. You can reach Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or call customer service at 1-800-837-4966.