Women fight sexual harassment at XPO

Women workers from an XPO Logistics warehouse in Memphis traveled to Seattle to demand that their employer be held accountable for sexual harassment that they are experiencing on the job.

The women were joined in Seattle by women’s rights activists and members of the Teamsters union who demonstrated with them at Verizon’s annual shareholders meeting.

Verizon contracts with XPO to operate the Memphis warehouse where a number of Verizon’s products are stored and shipped to customers all over the US.

In April three women at the warehouse filed charges with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging that XPO supervisors had groped them and made inappropriate and unwanted sexual comments and advances toward them.

A few weeks later, five more women filed similar charges.

“My coworkers and I were sexually harassed all the time with nowhere to turn,” said Lakeisha Nelson, one of the women who filed charges against XPO. “Our warehouse is an essential part of Verizon’s supply chain, and I hope now that we have the ear of Verizon’s CEO and board, that the company will help us end supervisor sexual harassment and misconduct at XPO once and for all.”

Later in the day, Nelson and Tasha Murrell, another XPO employee, met with Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam and two Verizon board members to discuss the charges.

After the meeting, a Verizon spokesperson told USA Today that as soon as Verizon learned of the charges, the company began its own investigation into the matter.

At the Seattle demonstration, Nelson and Murrell were joined by supporters of the TimesUp and MeToo campaigns against sexual harassment.

Prior to the demonstration, prominent activists in the two campaigns wrote a letter to McAdam informing him and the Verizon board about the charges.

The letter was signed by Gloria Sweet-Love, president of the NAACP Tennessee State Conference, Cherisse A. Scott, CEO and founder of SisterReach, Elizabeth Gedmark, senior staff attorney/director of the Southern Office of A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center, Sarah David Heydemann, legal fellow, Workplace Justice National Women’s Law Center, and Gabrielle Carteris, president SAG-AFTRA

James P. Hoffa, general president of the Teamsters, also signed the letter.

According to the letter, most of the workers at the Memphis XPO warehouse are African-American women, and most of the supervisors are white men.

The letter goes on to describe some of the harassment that XPO women workers endure.

“Numerous women told stories of how they and their coworkers regularly faced
disturbing behavior from their supervisors, including aggressive groping and grabbing,
uncomfortable sexual comments, and retaliation for reporting harassment to HR or not
entertaining the sexual advances,” states the letter.

The signees called on Verizon to “hold XPO accountable for the shocking and inexcusable
treatment of its workers.”

In addition to sexual harassment, workers at the XPO Memphis warehouse have other grievances including dangerous working conditions, low pay, having to work shifts that can last as long as 15 hours, and lack of control over their fluctuating hours, shifts, and work week.

They are also angry about the company’s lack of respect toward them.

“XPO management forces workers to remove their bras at the security checkpoint, we see snakes, rats, lizards and bugs,” said Elizabeth Howley, an XPO worker in April. “We don’t have any nurses or defibrillators, and no one is allowed to do CPR, even if certified. A co-worker died and we had to work around her body. We don’t deserve to be treated like this. No one does.”

Howley was referring to Linda Jo Neal, a 58-year old XPO Memphis worker who in October collapsed on the job and died of a heart attack.

According to XPO workers who were on the scene when Neal collapsed, those who tried to help her were warned by supervisors not to do so under threat of disciplinary action.

These conditions have led XPO workers to begin trying to organize a union.

They have received help from the Teamsters who have an ongoing organizing campaign at XPO, one of the biggest and fastest growing logistics companies in the world.

The Teamsters have won union election campaigns at XPO warehouses in Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

But XPO has relied on questionable and possibly illegal tactics to keep from bargaining with the union.

In January, an administrative law judge with the National Labor Relations Board ruled that XPO violated the law when it withheld raises from workers who voted to join the union and required the company to pay the workers millions of dollars owed to them in back pay.

One thing that the Memphis workers have in common with other XPO workers is that the company treats its frontline workers as so many interchangeable parts, as if they were just gears in a machine.

“I am human,” said Nelson at a union rally in April. “(XPO must) treat me as such. Give me that respect.”

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Women of Arise Chicago speak out against sexual harassment

Women who are members of Arise Chicago, a Chicago workers center, are speaking out against sexual harassment at work.

In a video titled Out of the Shadows, Arise members like Isabel Escobar, an Arise board member and domestic worker leader, tell their stories about being sexually harassed and threatened while on the job.

The video also offers advise about actions women can take to fight back against sexual harassment.

Escobar hopes that when people see Out of the Shadows, they will understand how sexual harassment menaces the livelihoods of women, especially those who work at low-wage jobs.

“We want to let people know that this doesn’t just happen to famous women,” said Escobar. “Abuse is not only committed by famous men in high power positions. Sexual harassment happens every day to low-wage workers, to immigrants, to women of color. And bosses, supervisors feel they have power over our work, our incomes. Therefore, many women are afraid to speak up or are afraid no one will believe us.”

Jocelyn Frye of the Center for American Progress has studied sexual harassment at work and finds that it is especially prevalent in service industries that employ a large number women who work for low wages.

According to Frye, the hospitality/food service and retail industries are the two sectors of the economy with the highest percentages of reported sexual harassment.

“Women—particularly women of color—are more likely to work lower-wage jobs, where power imbalances are often more pronounced and where fears of reprisals or losing their jobs can deter victims from coming forward,” writes Frye.

Women in the hospitality industry also face another source of sexual harassment.

UNITE HERE Local 1 in Chicago surveyed 500 union members who work in Chicago area hotels and casinos.

The survey found that 58 percent of hotel workers and 77 percent of casino workers reported that they have been sexually harassed by guests.

Sexual harassment by guests not only makes these workers uncomfortable, it can lead to sexual violence.

In response, Local 1 and the Chicago Federation of Labor succeeded in getting the Chicago City Council to pass the “Hands Off, Pants Up” city ordinance.

The ordinance protects hotel employees from retaliation when they report sexual violence by a guest. It also requires hotels to implement anti-harassment policies and to provide panic buttons to hotel workers who work alone in guest rooms and restrooms.

Workers can press panic buttons when guests act inappropriately toward them.

UNITE HERE has also negotiated a clause in their collective bargaining agreements with hotels around the country that requires the employer to provide workers with panic buttons.

“I feel much safer (because of the panic button),” said Betty Rice, a room attendant in a midtown Manhattan hotel room to WNYC radio.

“Because when you’re frightened, [that] doesn’t always mean you’re going to say ‘I’m on the 14th floor,'” Rice continued. “You’re screaming ‘I need help’. But with the panic button, once you press it, [hotel security] is already alert to where you [are].”

Unfortunately, there’s no panic button that can be pushed to stop unwanted sexual harassment by bosses or co-workers.

But Martina Sanchez, a worker leader of ARISE, sees hope in the fact that many women are coming forward to tell their stories and says that this moment represents a tipping point in the fight against sexual harassment.

“There are thousands of women who remain silent out of a variety of fears–fear of what will be said about them, fear of losing their job, or worst of all, fear they won’t be listened to and nothing will change,” said Sanchez. “But this moment is the beginning of a new struggle.”