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Memphis Commercial Appeal
We cannot let XPO take advantage of public funds and skirt around taxes if they are not going to treat our community and our people with the respect we deserve.
- Lakeisha Nelson is a former XPO Logistics worker.
- Tasha Murrel is a former XPO Logistics worker and current Teamsters organizer advocating for the rights of XPO workers.
If you’ve ever worked at a warehouse in Memphis, the summer heat is something you don’t forget.
Lugging twenty-pound boxes in temperatures over a hundred degrees, only ten hours into a twelve-hour shift, is grueling. It’s no wonder that at XPO Logistics’ now shuttered Verizon warehouse, with little ventilation and no air conditioning, it became commonplace for workers to suffer heatstroke and faint.
As two former employees at XPO’s Memphis warehouse, we witnessed, and physically endured, much more than the discomfort of heat.
One of us suffered a miscarriage during the second trimester of pregnancy after being denied a request to refrain from heavy lifting, denied time off after complaining of pain, and told by a supervisor to “get an abortion.” One of us watched a colleague and close friend die from a heart attack on the warehouse floor, while managers stood by, did nothing, and told us to continue working around her body.
Now, XPO Logistics is asking for a $4.2 million tax break from the Economic Development Growth Engine (EDGE) for Memphis & Shelby County. (In mid August, the tax-break application was pulled from the EDGE board agenda after a letter from U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, (D-Memphis). Cohen requested the project be revisited because of concerns over allegations of workers having miscarriages triggered by working conditions.)
Let us be clear: we have no reason to believe this new warehouse will be any different than their last.
During our years working for XPO Logistics, we experienced brutal treatment by supervisors who ran the warehouse like a personal plantation. Workers were discriminated against, sexually harassed, and ultimately fired and laid off in retaliation for speaking up.
Long before the COVID-19 pandemic upended our country and shined a light on the dreadful working conditions of many essential workers, XPO had a long history of committing horrendous worker abuses.
Lakeisha Nelson (Photo: Submitted)
XPO Logistics carries a long history of abuse and harm to its workers
In 2014 alone, three women in XPO Logistics’ Memphis warehouse had miscarriages after asking for and being denied lighter duty work. These tragedies were avoidable, had our managers and the company only cared about its workforce. Instead, less than a year after the pregnancy scandal erupted, XPO closed its Memphis factory, leaving 400 of us without jobs and living in a nightmare that to this day feels never ending.
In its EDGE application, the company has cited the creation of 225 jobs, but has been silent in addressing its history of horrid working conditions and complete lack of regard for the health and safety of their employees.
Furthermore, the new policy accommodating pregnant workers that XPO implemented following the 2018 lawsuit and investigation applies only to full-time employees who are enrolled in XPO Logistics’ healthcare insurance policy, leaving out the third-party contract workers XPO consistently hires at its Memphis warehouses — a clear move to avoid hiring unionized labor, as well as any employee who cannot afford its high-cost insurance plan.
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At a time when a global pandemic continues to ravage our country, a plan for health and safety precautions should be vital, if not required, by our EDGE board. Given XPO Logistics’ history of worker abuse and brutal working conditions, this absence and complete lack of acknowledgement in XPO’s application should raise more than a few red flags.
Together, we’ve lost a baby and a dear friend at the hands of this company, not to mention our jobs after speaking out. Now, we’re calling on the EDGE board to end XPO’s cycle of abuse in Memphis.
The EDGE board must not go forward with reviewing XPO Logistics’ application until the company makes the necessary commitments that will guarantee benefit to the community and workers. Promising 225 jobs, many of which will inevitably be underpaying and lack benefits or dignity, is insulting when the company is trying to squeeze $4.2 million out of the pockets of Memphis taxpayers but it falls in line with the company’s disregard for its own workers in our community.
XPO Logistics will never be a good faith employer
But we must still try to hold them to account. Before any application review or approval, the EDGE board should seek for XPO to commit to preferential hiring of the Memphis workers that they laid off when they closed their Verizon warehouse, and to creating full-time jobs with benefits for low-tier, frontline warehouse workers rather than going through temp-agencies.
They need to commit to affordable healthcare and sick pay. And most importantly they need to outline how they will improve working conditions and prevent the abuse and harassment that so many of us are permanently traumatized by.
We cannot let XPO take advantage of public funds and skirt around taxes if they are not going to treat our community and our people with the respect we deserve. As it is, we’ve already given up too much.
Lakeisha Nelson is a former XPO Logistics worker.
Tasha Murrel is a former XPO Logistics worker and current Teamsters organizer advocating for the rights of XPO workers.
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