XPO Logistics workers, management debate company’s pandemic response
Photo: Alexander Soule / Hearst Connecticut Media
GREENWICH — Several U.S. and European employees at transportation-and-logistics giant XPO Logistics said in an online forum Tuesday that they have been working in unsafe conditions during the coronavirus crisis, while the company has rejected those allegations.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters union, a longtime company critic that has been trying to organize workers across the U.S. for several years, hosted the webinar two days ahead of Greenwich-based XPO’s annual shareholder meeting. Speakers in the meeting asserted that XPO workers lacked personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies and were struggling to physically distance at work.
“While it is impossible to know which cases stem from a workplace exposure, we do know that warehouse and distribution workers are at significantly higher risk of exposure, which is exacerbated when proper protocols are not followed,” Ken Hall, the Teamsters’ general secretary-treasurer, said during the webinar. “Workplace health and safety has always been a priority for workers and their unions. But in the current crisis, human capital management, specifically as it relates to worker health and safety, has become a material concern for shareholders.”
In a responding statement, XPO said that “as the Teamsters continue to spread misinformation and take advantage of a public health crisis to further their own financial agenda, we’ve consistently put employee safety first throughout the pandemic with aggressive measures to protect their physical and mental health. … The results indicate our efforts are working, with our rate of infection well below the global and national average.”
XPO declined to disclose the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases among employees or say whether any of its workers had died from the illness.
Webinar participants expressed dissatisfaction with the pandemic response from the No. 180 company on last year’s Fortune 500 list. XPO employs about 100,000 globally, including about 50,000 in the U.S.
David Mondesir, who is based at XPO’s site in the Paris suburb of Fleury-Merogis, said employees’ concerns about a lack of PPE and cleaning materials prompted a recent work stoppage at his facility.
“The fact that we had left the company and stopped working, I think triggered the company into action,” Mondesir said. “We started getting supplies, including protective equipment, cleaning wipes, cleaning gels. A specific area was set up for people to clean up on entry and exit. We felt that action actually had a huge impact and was quite successful.”
British employees face comparable risks, according to Mick Rix, national officer for the GMB union, who cited a recent survey of members who work at an XPO facility in Barnsley, England.
“Many give graphic accounts that they could not meet the two-meter social distancing standards in the U.K., when working in the warehouse,” Rix said. “There was a basic lack of soap and sanitizing products not being replaced or not being provided at various points.”
XPO officials said the company has undertaken a “massive procurement effort focused on keeping our frontline employees safe” and that they are tracking their sites’ PPE stockpiles on a daily basis.
Those initiatives include the distribution of some 800,000 disposable masks, 205,000 reusable masks, more than 1.4 million disposable gloves — with another 1.5 million on order — and nearly 90,000 gallons of hand sanitizers. In the U.S., it said it has distributed 2,500 gallons of disinfecting solutions and has disinfected 2.5 million square feet of space to comply with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.
XPO also announced Tuesday that it had donated 90,000 surgical masks to hospitals in and around Paris.
In addition to procuring PPE and cleaning supplies and implementing social-distancing measures, XPO officials have pointed to a number of new benefits instituted in recent weeks in response to the spread of COVID-19.
To encourage employees to stay home when they are ill, the firm said it has provided two extra weeks of paid sick leave for employees in the U.S. and Canada.
The company said it has also added free COVID-19 testing to its U.S. health insurance coverage and provided free access to telehealth services.
At the same time, it has instituted “frontline appreciation pay” for nearly 40,000 employees in the U.S. Hourly warehouse workers are receiving an extra $2 per hour on top of their regular rates.
The Teamsters are longstanding critics of XPO’s labor practices and corporate governance.
Since 2014, the Teamsters have sought to organize employees at several less-than-truckload and logistics facilities.
In October 2017, a majority of North Haven-based logistics employees, who had previously voted for Teamsters representation, petitioned the company to withdraw its recognition of the union as the employees’ representative, according to company records. The company granted that request.
In May 2019, about a dozen of 185 North Haven employees went on strike. XPO said that action did not disrupt its operations there.
The Teamsters said they are now negotiating contracts for workers based in Bakersfield and Vernon, Calif.; Miami; Cinnaminson and Trenton, N.J.; and King of Prussia, Pa.
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