We published an important investigation into worker safety at FedEx, prompted by the death of Duntate Young, a 23-year-old temporary worker killed at the FedEx Express World Hub.
As FedEx faces what is its busiest season ever, experts say what happened to Young and the citation that resulted raise key questions about the company’s safety practices.
Here are five takeaways from the investigation that will introduce you to some of the people we spoke with. Find the full story here. See FedEx’s statement here. And if you have worker safety stories to share, here’s how to tell us about them.
TOSHA fined FedEx $7,000 following Young’s death. The penalty was later reduced to $5,950.
Leanell “Troy” and Jeanette McClenton hold photos of their son Duntate Young at their home in West Memphis, Arkansas. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50.
Young died after packages inside a shipping container fell against the container’s unsecured vinyl door, causing it to open and strike him on the back of the leg. He fell chest-first into a metal railing.
FedEx, which has an annual revenue that tops $75 billion, was fined $7,000 in March for failing to provide a workplace “free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.”
The Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration later reduced the penalty to $5,950 after FedEx provided TOSHA with a list of measures it took to prevent similar incidents.
In 2016, a woman was injured in an incident strikingly similar to the one that would kill Young. “I thought I was a goner,” said Fannie Stanberry, “I had to learn how to walk over again.”
Fannie Stanberry, pictured at her home in Moscow, Tennessee, broke her arm and eight ribs in a 2016 incident at FedEx’s hub. Three years later, a similar accident would kill Young. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50.
Stanberry, then 61, was injured when she fell after bending over to pickup packages that had fallen from a shipping container. She became trapped between the catwalk she’d been standing on and the wheeled platform carrying the container, also known as a dolly. She broke eight ribs and her left arm and lacerated her liver, she said.
TOSHA asked the shipping giant to investigate itself and suggest corrections, according to state records reviewed by MLK50 and ProPublica. FedEx told TOSHA it would train employees on safe work methods, and the agency declared the company’s response sufficient and closed its case.
Because of Stanberry’s incident, TOSHA’s investigation after Young’s death found that FedEx was aware of the hazards associated with containers and the equipment ferrying them around.
A tug pulls a dolly with cargo containers at the FedEx Express World Hub in December 2014. The containers are similar to the one involved in Young’s fatal injury. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Young’s family against FedEx and Satco, Inc., the manufacturer of the shipping container involved in Young’s death, alleges that FedEx didn’t provide adequate training for temporary workers. FedEx, the lawsuit said, allowed workers to engage in dangerous practices because “being fast was more important… than being safe.”
Studies show people of color are more likely to work in dangerous industries and suffer injuries on the job. And FedEx’s safety record has gotten worse in recent years.
A view of the conveyor belts that move packages for distribution at the FedEx Express World Hub. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50
The physical toll of hazardous jobs falls hardest on workers of color: In the past six years, four workers have died at FedEx Memphis’ hub; all but one was Black. Studies using data from the U.S. census and the Bureau of Labor Statistics show Black workers nationwide are more likely than whites to work in dangerous industries and more likely to be injured on the job.
Experts say state safety officials could have done more to prevent Young’s death and protect workers, but a TOSHA official isn’t so sure.
A view of the FedEx Express World Hub from the control tower in 2014. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50.
“Employers train their employees to follow the rules and in some cases, we can’t protect employees from hazards,” said Larry Hunt, TOSHA’s assistant administrator.
Hunt said he didn’t think TOSHA could have proven that the 2016 and 2019 incidents were similar enough to sustain a willful violation with the information the agency had available. Asked how TOSHA could be confident that FedEx would now do what it said it’d do in 2016 when another worker was injured, Hunt said workers can file complaints by mail or online. “We can’t know what’s going on in every place, that’s just not practical,” he said.