A group of democratic senators on Tuesday released a letter they sent to 16 retailers urging them to end practices they say disregard federal safety regulations and the employment rights of truckers, according to a press release.
The group is led by senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and also includes Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Kamala Harris (D-CA). The letter is the latest salvo in Brown’s effort to “increase the value of work.” In March, he also released a report that called out “the port trucking industry as a case study in how companies mistreat workers to pad their profits,” the lawmakers said.
The letter was sent to Target, Hewlett Packard, Home Depot, Hasbro, J. Crew, UPS, Goodyear, Costco, Ralph Lauren, TJX, LG Electronics, JC Penney, Steve Madden, Neiman Marcus, Walmart and Amazon.
The effort comes on the heels of an investigative report from USA Today on California port trucking companies that found drivers going into debt amid pressure to work as long as 20 hours in a day for little pay.
"Port trucking companies’ brazen disregard for federal transportation safety standards and workers’ safety and rights is shameful," the Senators said in the letter. "As federal legislators, we take seriously our oversight of the enforcement of federal labor and transportation laws and will pursue aggressively all federal avenues to put an end to this rampant mistreatment of port truck drivers. As a major U.S. corporation, you also have a role to play in ensuring that you are not complicit in the mistreatment of port truck drivers and that American consumers, your customers, are not unwittingly supporting labor abuses in the United States."
Retail working conditions and pay at brick-and-mortar stores have long been contentious labor issues, and have garnered increased scrutiny of late. Under pressure from states and localities that are increasing their minimum wages as well as from a healthier economy where employees are hard to find, retail wages have risen somewhat in recent years. And just-in-time scheduling, where workers face last-minute scheduling, unpaid hours on call or hours shortened without warning, is also coming under fire.
With e-commerce and omnichannel a burgeoning segment of retail, fulfillment jobs in warehouses and delivery, inevitably have also come into focus. Those operations hit margins hard compared to traditional brick-and-mortar distribution, and retailers are scrambling to contain costs. Amazon and Walmart in particular have faced criticism for their work environments and pay at warehouses, as well as in the air and on the road. Amazon is facing complaints from pilots as well as truck and van drivers who say they’re under pressure to make deliveries on time, without overtime or legally required breaks for meals, for example. Walmart earlier this year was found to have improperly compensated some 850 of its truck drivers under its own terms of employment and against California law, though it didn’t face additional damages in court.
"Our drivers are among the highest paid in the industry, earning from approximately $80,000 to over $100,000 per year," Walmart spokesman Randy Hargrove told Retail Dive about that case. "We strongly believe that our truck drivers are paid in compliance with California law and often in excess of what California law requires. Walmart is a great place to work, as demonstrated by the fact that more than 90% of our drivers have been with the company for more than 10 years."