XPO widens internal workplace practices probe in wake of alleged problems at Memphis facility

 Company widens internal probe into warehouse workplace conditions. (Photo:Shutterstock)

Company widens internal probe into warehouse workplace conditions. (Photo:Shutterstock)

Transport and logistics giant XPO Logistics, Inc. (NYSE:XPO) said it has widened an internal investigation into workplace practices to include allegations that substandard conditions at its warehouse in Memphis had led to employee miscarriages there.

The expanded probe is being handled by Tina Tchen, a workplace and gender equity expert whom XPO engaged in May to identify areas of potential improvement in XPO’s workplace culture. Once the allegations were raised in a New York Times mid-October expose on workplace conditions in Memphis, XPO asked Tchen to expand her review.

In a statement released late yesterday, the company said it is “committed to implementing any recommeded improvements” arising from Tchen’s review. XPO announced yesterday it has implemented policies to “provide increased support” for pregnant workers, offer paid family leave, and make available “30 new types” of wellness benefits for women and their families.

For example, maternity leave will now be a stand-alone benefit, whereas before it was covered under the company’s disability benefits. The new benefit is based on XPO’s belief that maternity should not be treated as a disability, according to a source close to the company.

The new strategy is designed to “provide the kind of support pregnant women need, without impact for any temporary change in the nature of their work,” according to the statement.

The announcement came two weeks after nine U.S. senators sent a letter to XPO demanding it provide details by Dec. 4 on systemwide workplace practices in the wake of charges that the company subjected pregnant female employees to overly strenuous working conditions at its Memphis warehouse, and that some workers may have suffered miscarriages as a result.

The letter, which was co-signed by eight Democrats and one Independent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), requested the company address workplace issues that encompass the company’s U.S. network, which includes more than 250 distribution centers. The senators said they wanted XPO to “outline changes that will be made to improve working conditions and protect your employees throughout the country.”

The lawmakers noted in the letter that XPO received $85 million in tax dollars during the 2018 fiscal year.

According to the Times story, pregnant employees at XPO’s Memphis warehouse have faced an excessively demanding workload and have been forced to work in difficult conditions, with temperatures routinely exceeding 100 degrees and with humidity often making it difficult to breathe.

When the Times story published, XPO said there had been no reports of such incidents at the warehouse in the four years since XPO took control of it in September 2014, when it acquired New Breed Logistics, a contract logistics provider and the warehouse’s then-owner. In addition, no incidents were identified when XPO performed due diligence on New Breed, it said at the time. The widening of Tchen’s review should not be taken as a sign XPO had uncovered certain information about workplace issues that it wasn’t aware of two months ago, according to the source. The company sought a wider review out of an abundance of caution and a desire to do the right thing, the source said.

XPO operates the facility on behalf of telecom titan Verizon Wireless.

XPO has said that the Teamsters union, which is locked in a long-running battle to organize XPO workers at its less-than-truckload unit and which has has crossed swords with the company over alleged job misclassifications of port drivers on the West Coast, played a role in orchestrating the dispute in order to put the company on the public relations defensive. The Teamsters, which did not respond to a request for comment on yesterday’s announcement, is looking to organize workers at distribution centers nationwide, and has made XPO and its large physical footprint prime targets.

.In a joint statement yesterday, Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D-N.Y.) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) called XPO’s announcement a “welcome first step” to ensure its pregnant workers are provided the appropriate accommodations for their health and the health of their newborns.