One of the largest transportation and logistics corporations in the world, XPO Logistics, recently created a spinoff company that will focus on warehouses and supply chains, while XPO Logistics will continue to focus more on transportation operations. Workers and unions argue that, despite the new name, GXO is continuing the same union opposition and mistreatment of workers as their predecessor.
The new corporation, GXO Logistics, officially went public on the New York Stock Exchange on Aug. 2 with 94,000 employees at 869 locations around the world.
Even though many have not heard the name before, some of the largest and most high-profile brands outsource their warehouse and logistics needs to GXO, including Amazon, Home Depot, IKEA, Nestle, Peloton, Starbucks, Target, Verizon, and Walmart.
GXO executives claim the new company is leaving behind the “Dickensian warehouse” of the past through a reliance on technology and automation.
“The tight labor market is actually giving us a great opportunity for growth with the high level of automation that we can add to our warehouses, solutions, and operations, to reduce our dependency on the tight labor market,” said a GXO executive during a recent call with investors.
Another GXO executive added in the same call: “If you think about labor inflation, it causes customers to want to automate more. It means more robotics.”
During an investor-day presentation in July 2021, a GXO executive claimed that “where we deploy robots and autonomous goods-to-person systems, we see material increases in productivity of up to six times, versus the human hand.”
XPO Logistics has a long record of alleged worker mistreatment and exploitation. Workers and unions argue that these practices have carried over to the new company, whose split from XPO was billed as a way to generate value for shareholders (XPO shareholders received one share of GXO for every XPO share they held, and share prices of both stocks have climbed significantly since the split).
“From a worker’s point of view, it is deeply concerning when any company seems to openly come out and say they wish to automate,” said Matt Draper, national officer of the UK union Unite. Draper emphasized that unions must negotiate technology agreements that take into account the effects of automation on workforces and their communities, and that secure options for retraining workforces rather than just replacing them.
“We understand that change will happen,” he added. “In our opinion, it’s done with a clear view to move away from human beings—and indirectly you could argue this is a tactic as well to speed up a move away from organized labor because, obviously, robots won’t join a union. Before you move down the route towards automation, either semi or fully automated, you should engage with the trade unions.”
The Teamsters and other unions have long criticized XPO Logistics for its treatment of workers throughout the US and abroad regarding safety concerns, COVID-19 responses, profiteering during the pandemic, discrimination, wage theft, and retaliation for union organizing. The Teamsters have filed dozens of unfair labor practice complaints against the company over the years, many resulting in settlements.
In February 2019, XPO Logistics shuttered a warehouse in Memphis, Tennessee, where several workers miscarried their pregnancies on the job after they were reportedly denied pregnancy accommodations. XPO Logistics has refuted allegations of worker mistreatment in their warehouses.
It’s not just XPO’s record on worker treatment and unionization efforts under scrutiny—their executive compensation packages have been criticized by unions and some shareholders as well. In 2020, XPO Logistics CEO Brad Jacobs received over $21.8 million in total compensation, a 178% increase from the previous year. XPO Logistics, and now GXO, was largely built through a series of acquisitions of hundreds of other companies, a trend GXO executives have noted they plan to continue as a means of subsidizing the company’s growth.
Prior to the XPO Logistics split, the Teamsters union reached their first contract agreement with XPO Logistics in the US in July 2021 at a work site in Miami, Florida, after seven years of organizing. A second XPO Logistics facility in Trenton, New Jersey, reached a contract a week later. Several other facilities have voted to form a union, but have yet to reach a contract with the company. In a blow to workers, some decertification efforts have been successful in the wake of XPO Logistics failing to reach contract agreements after successful union votes.
“It doesn’t matter what letters of the alphabet they use to designate their company; the way they treat workers and treat unionization is all the same,” said Greg Chockley, national campaign coordinator for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. “They’re going to battle as hard as they can to remain union-free. We were fortunate to have bargaining units, workers, and local unions who had the fortitude to stick together long enough to actually bring around a couple of agreements, which we’re very thrilled about, and they’re historic in every way. We hope to add a couple more to that.”
Workers at XPO Logistics, and now GXO, are still fighting to unionize amid drawn-out and aggressive opposition from management.
Parakos Fesagaiga, a forklift operator at a GXO Logistics warehouse in Tacoma, Washington, that focuses on Pepsi products, has worked the graveyard shift for two years.
Fesagaiga explained workers have been upset over how they’ve been treated during the pandemic, citing a $2/hour hazard pay increase that was taken away after a few weeks, even as workers were still required to obtain documentation to freely travel to and from work as essential workers during COVID-19 lockdowns.
He’s one of around 100 workers at the warehouse who are attempting to organize a union with Teamsters Local 313 in the face of opposition from management. In part, Fesagaiga noted, the organizing drive was inspired by the rampant use of temporary workers at the warehouse, along with the fact that these workers are provided with productivity bonuses, while employees like Fesagaiga receive no such incentives. Wages for temps and regular employees start at $17/hour.
“It almost seems like management were actually making policies to be divisive on purpose,” said Fesagaiga. “There’s no bonus incentive for us as full-time employees; all we basically got was a raffle. It was like another spit in our face. We’ve been here to teach and train the temps what to do when they’re getting the same wages as us, so it pitted us against them.”
When workers expressed their concerns to a supervisor who was well-liked among workers (owing to the fact that said supervisor had worked their way up from a regular full-time position), Fesagaiga claimed the supervisor was terminated shortly after, prompting workers to reach out to union organizers in an effort to put pressure on management to meet their demands.
Then things escalated. Labor relations managers started to patrol the workers’ shifts. According to Fesagaiga, apart from immediate supervisors, it was rare for managers to be present during night shifts. Workers were also brought in as groups for captive audience meetings to dissuade them from unionizing.
Faasapa Telea, a forklift operator at the warehouse for three years, described the captive audience meetings and the attitude toward workers from management.
“They’re very anti-union,” said Telea. “They say a lot of really bad stuff about the union, saying the union is a business, and try to make the union sound like a salesman.”
Telea also described the productivity pressures workers face during their shifts: Her department is expected to fill six trailers of 30 pallets each and every night, in addition to training and assisting temp workers and other departments.
“We do more than just loading and unloading. I work really hard, I put in 110% and I just want to get back what I put in,” she added. “We often have to jump off food and beverage to do extra stuff, and they expect temps to know everything after a week—and it’s not possible when the training isn’t correct. Temps come and go. People get frustrated by management, the lack of training, or the job in general because of how they’re treated.”
Through the union, workers filed several unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board against XPO Logistics over retaliation to union organizing, surveillance, and firings. The charges are currently under review. These same issues have remained unchanged as XPO Logistics spun off into GXO, workers explained.
A spokesperson for GXO said in an email: “We’ve always believed that spinning off our logistics business as GXO was the most effective way to unlock significant value for all our stakeholders. For our employees, this means continuing to offer market competitive pay and benefits, cross training for skills development, and opportunities for professional growth. We’re also developing new ways of managing supply chains for our customers using the latest technology, notably with automation that helps our team and improves safety in operations.”
They did not comment on the unionization effort at the GXO warehouse in Tacoma, Washington.