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February 19, 2019 11:30 AM, EST

XPO Denies Memphis Plant Closing Is Retaliation

XPO Logistics XPO Logistics

XPO Logistics Inc. confirmed Feb. 14 that it will close a facility in Memphis, Tenn., where some employees have made allegations of pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment, and the next day CEO Brad Jacobs said a customer's request prompted the decision.

The warehouse was investigated last October by The New York Times, with two women reporting that they had miscarriages last year while working at the plant, which processes boxes of iPhones and other devices for Verizon. In a letter distributed Feb. 13 to workers, XPO said it would start layoffs April 15 because of an “overall business model change” by Verizon.

XPO Logistics is No. 1 on the Transport Topics list of the top 50 logistics companies in North America.

“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,” Lakeisha Nelson, a worker at the facility, said in a statement sent Feb. 13 by Teamsters union, which does not represent the facility’s 400 workers. “In return, XPO and Verizon are shutting down our facility and cutting our jobs. I will not be intimidated by these corporate bullies.”

XPO responded Feb, 14 in a statement that the company has a “strict no-retaliation policy in place that applies to the company, as well as individuals. We encourage employees to voice concerns — including anonymously — without any fear of reprisal.”

XPO Logistics

XPO Logistics

Jacobs said during a call with investment analysts Feb. 15 that the request to close the plant came from Verizon.

"Verizon is always evaluating its supply chain. They have a complex supply chain, it's a big supply chain. It's a global supply chain," he said. "And they made a decision to transition the distribution of their wireless products out of Memphis to several other distribution centers around the country. So that is just one part of their ongoing process."

Most of the workers will be able to get new jobs at 11 other XPO facilities in the Memphis area, the statement said. In addition, the firm plans to hire about 80 for a plant scheduled to open this year. It would be across the street from the closing warehouse, which has operated at 4895 Citation Drive, in the city’s southeast section, since 2003.

Through the acquisition of the Citation Drive plant’s previous owner, XPO took over the property in late 2014.

One of the women interviewed by The Times, Ceeadria Walker, 19, said she gave her supervisor a doctor’s note that recommended fewer hours on her feet to avoid injury or pregnancy complications. Walker was allowed to focus on paperwork on some days, but she told The Times she spent most of last July on a conveyor-belt line lifting 45-pound boxes. Last August, she miscarried.

The Times also reported that a 58-year-old worker at the Citation Drive plant died in October 2017 of cardiac arrest on the warehouse floor after complaining to co-workers about feeling sick.

XPO initially disputed the accuracy of The Times article but then said in early December that it would investigate the reported violations.

Also in early December, the company announced a new policy for the care and support of pregnant workers that includes paid family leave, pregnancy and postpartum benefits, and flexible working arrangements. Eligible workers would receive their regular base wages while they used their accommodations and still would qualify for pay increases during that time.

XPO has faced increasing congressional attention since The Times’ report came out, as well as others on purported worker mistreatment that were published last fall by the Los Angeles Times and PBS’ “NewsHour.”

Last November, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) joined eight other senators to launch an investigation of XPO.

Two weeks later, nearly 100 Democratic U.S. representatives — including Connecticut’s Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, Elizabeth Esty and John Larson — signed a letter seeking a similar probe.

On Feb. 13,, XPO announced a program for U.S. employees and their families that gives them mobile-app access to a network of more than 1,400 health practitioners across 20 specialties, including fertility, lactation, infant sleep, nutrition and mental health. Employees can also sign up with a “personal care coordinator” to support them during and after pregnancy.

In a statement Feb. 13, Blumenthal expressed doubts about the impact of the program, although he said he wanted to keep working with XPO to ensure workers and their families receive the support they need during and after pregnancies.

“Although I appreciate XPO’s stated intent to improve benefits and workplace policies for women and families, this new program still leaves many questions unanswered,” he said. “How many workers will actually benefit? Will access to this app make a meaningful difference if underlying workplace policies remain?”

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC