The drivers who handle much of FedEx's delivery business say they are not getting the coronavirus protections and additional sick leave other U.S. delivery workers have been given, even as they risk exposure working long hours delivering high volumes of packages to millions of Americans stuck at home.
While many major U.S. companies, including UPS, Amazon and the U.S. Postal Service, have changed sick leave policies for essential employees like delivery workers in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, drivers for FedEx's Ground division say the company has not provided cleaning and sanitizing supplies or offered additional health benefits like sick leave, even though other FedEx employees have received some.
FedEx directly employs more than 200,000 people in the U.S. and delivers more packages than any other private U.S. company except UPS. The FedEx Ground division, which delivers most FedEx packages in North America, is the company's second most profitable segment and brought in nearly 30 percent of its revenue last year.
FedEx Ground, however, is structured far differently than most other major U.S. delivery operations because it depends on drivers who are employed by independent contractors to deliver its packages. FedEx Ground drivers work for the contractors, not FedEx.
FedEx Ground works with nearly 5,000 contractors, which it calls "service providers," in the U.S. The contractors employ more than 100,000 workers -- many as drivers -- according to the company, and operate approximately 60,000 vehicles, according to federal data.
FedEx Ground drivers around the country told NBC News they are worried for their health and concerned by a lack of communication from FedEx about what measures the company is taking to protect them in light of the coronavirus.
NBC News spoke to 10 FedEx Ground drivers in seven states who said FedEx has largely told the contractors they are on their own when it comes to protective equipment, cleaning and sanitizing supplies and leave for sick workers.
"FedEx could give two anythings about us," said a veteran driver in Oak Park, Michigan. Like all the drivers who talked to NBC News, he spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid potential retribution. "They are telling contractors, 'it's your company, you figure it out.' My contractor is doing what he can, but he's losing money left and right."
A spokesperson for FedEx Ground told NBC News that "as independent businesses, service providers employ their own personnel, and make their own entrepreneurial decisions concerning employer-related expenses, including wages, salaries, and benefits."
Contractors are compensated by FedEx based on package, stop and mile rates. While there are no publicly available national statistics, drivers around the country said few offer benefits like health insurance, or have the ability to provide two weeks of additional paid time off.
"I'm very fortunate to have a good contractor that offers a good wage and health insurance," said a driver from Ohio. He said that for drivers who don't have good benefits, "it truly does make it scary working this type of job with everything going on."
Sick pay policies
The country's other major delivery companies have all offered employees some form of extra benefits due to coronavirus. The U.S. Postal Service has updated its leave policies to allow "liberal use of leave" so employees can stay home if they feel sick, must provide dependent care -- which now includes dealing with school closures -- or "wish to abide by state or local shelter-in-place requirements." It will also provide 80 hours of paid leave to noncareer employees for issues related to COVID-19.
UPS reached an agreement with its union to provide 10 days paid sick leave for workers diagnosed with COVID-19 and those required to be isolated due to a family member's illness.
Even Amazon, though still smaller than the other three big deliverers, has offered its delivery employees support. Amazon is the only other large deliverer that employs most of its delivery drivers through contracting companies, like FedEx Ground. Amazon's delivery network has far fewer contract companies -- just over 800 -- and employs more than 75,000 drivers in the U.S., according to company figures from December.
It has offered delivery drivers a $2-an-hour pay increase and created a relief fund that they can apply to for grants equal to approximately two weeks of pay for people diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed into quarantine by the government or Amazon.
Workers employed directly by FedEx, including office staff and the package handlers who load trucks and administrative workers, and drivers who work directly for FedEx Express, the division that makes FedEx's next-day deliveries in the U.S., are receiving more support from the company.
"FedEx has comprehensive benefits, including sick pay policies, across operating companies that were offered before the pandemic," a spokesperson told NBC News. "In some cases, sick pay has been recently enhanced. In general, FedEx employees will receive up to two weeks' pay based on their regular work schedule or guaranteed minimums if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed under a medically required quarantine." Full-time employees who are ill longer than two weeks are eligible for short-term disability benefits.
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When asked about protections for FedEx Ground drivers, FedEx told NBC News that it has "taken a number of steps to support the health and safety of service providers and their employees, as well as the customers with whom they interact," listing changes like removing signature delivery, accommodating customer requests and modified store hours, and communicating to ensure service providers have access to the latest guidance from health authorities.
The company did not respond to questions about whether it is offering FedEx Ground drivers sick leave or hazard pay.
'No health insurance. No hazard pay.'
Some of the contracting companies that manage FedEx Ground deliveries are multistate operations, but many are small, local businesses where margins can be tight, drivers said. The drivers who spoke to NBC News worked for contractors that operated 10 to 250 vehicles for FedEx.
The amount and the way workers get paid hasn't changed amid the coronavirus outbreak, workers said. Unless FedEx chooses to offer more money to the contracting companies, they have few options for finding additional funds to improve pay or benefits for the drivers.
One North Carolina contractor expressed his concerns about FedEx's lack of support to his drivers in a March 22 text seen by NBC News. "We are all scared of this disease going around," he wrote. "There has not been 1 meeting about it. Nothing. FedEx does not care about us just the mighty dollar. ... No health insurance. No hazard pay."
Asked what it had communicated to the managers and owners of contracting companies, FedEx said, "Communication with service providers during the pandemic has been consistent and frequent due to the essential nature of the services we provide to customers and our communities. FedEx Ground provides a mix of information and resources that service providers can use to communicate with their employees, including printable and video materials, links to the latest updates from the CDC and other leading health experts, and FAQs."
"FedEx Ground has also hosted several conference calls with service providers to update them on steps we are taking to sustain operations and intensify safety measures, field and address their concerns, and guide them to the appropriate resources. We have been consistently urging businesses to keep their employees informed and engaged and to relay important information during this critical time."
'We're not doing anything different'
It's not just the pay that worries workers, but what they say is a lack of protective gear and cleaning measures that make them concerned for their health. All the drivers who spoke to NBC News said protective gear like gloves and supplies like hand sanitizer were in short supply or nonexistent at their terminals.
Employees who work directly for FedEx, including package handlers and drivers for FedEx Express, which has a smaller truck fleet than FedEx Ground, said they had the same concerns.
Several package handlers told NBC News there is no way for them to be 6 feet apart at their work stations as they touch thousands of packages a day. While some facilities now have protective supplies like hand sanitizer, cleaning wipes and gloves, not every shift has access to them.
Two package handlers from different shifts at the same Minneapolis terminal said gloves were provided to one group but not the other.
FedEx told NBC News that it has increased cleaning protocol at all of its facilities, "including more frequent janitorial services each day and sanitation of regularly used equipment," and that it has been working "to ensure a supply of disinfectant, hand sanitizer and latex gloves at every facility for use by employees and service provider personnel."
"They're much more concerned with keeping the operation rolling," said a FedEx Express driver in Hawaii. He received a small bottle of hand sanitizer for the first time last week, but said there has never been a cleaning service at his building. "We're not doing anything different at our facility, I can guarantee you that."
All the FedEx drivers and employees who spoke to NBC News, whether employed directly by the company or by contractors, said they have heard little from supervisors on the subject and seen minimal evidence of such changes.
Most are continuing to work, though their concerns are mounting as cases climb around the country. "At the end of the day I love what I do. I feel like what we're doing right now is something to be proud of," said the Ohio driver. "There's just certain policies and protections that need to be implemented during a crisis like this."
"Help keep their employees safe and healthy. Compensate them for ... putting their health at risk. Do what's right, and not about what's going to help our stock rise," he said.