ROMULUS — U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) responded this week to an incident at the Amazon fulfillment center in Romulus, where the company called the police on them while they waited to inspect the facility for COVID-19 safety.
The pair had been invited to look at conditions at the center by Amazon itself, after workers raised serious concerns over unsafe working conditions, lack of sanitation and necessary protections against the virus in its fulfillment centers.
Wayne County has been the state’s epicenter for infections. While the virus spread throughout the company and workers at the Romulus facility, known as DTW1, demanded protective measures and an end to the company’s concealing of information about infections, Amazon doubled its net profit, with CEO Jeff Bezos’ wealth surpassing $200 billion.
Workers at Romulus and other facilities across the world have protested these conditions. Amazon refuses to release the true extent of infections among its workers. But internal company communications and tracking by workers themselves showed infections at above average levels compared to community spread.
Tlaib and Dingell sought a federal investigation into workplace safety after Amazon denied repeated accounts of unsafe conditions by workers at DTW1.
Once we were finally allowed inside, and despite an hour and a half spent prepping the facility, we got a firsthand look at the unacceptable and unsafe conditions that workers have been telling our offices about for months — Tlaib/Dingell
Amazon then invited the two congresswomen to visit its facility, which they did last Friday. Instead of being let in, they were made to wait more than an hour and a half outside the facility while workers visible through windows were made to clean surfaces inside.
Despite being well aware of the identities of their guests, Amazon called the police on the congresswomen. Facility management then let the two in, after saying the police call had been a “misunderstanding.”
Here is the full statement from the congresswomen in response to their DTW1 visit, issued Monday:
For months, we have stood with workers at Amazon as they demanded that one of the world’s richest corporations provide a safe working environment. On Friday, we accepted Amazon’s open invitation and visited DTW1 in Romulus to see for ourselves. We were made to wait more than an hour and a half outside the facility as we watched personnel inside scrambling to clean areas visible to us. While we waited — and for no apparent reason — Amazon called the police on their congresswomen. Despite their claims to the contrary, there was no misunderstanding. They knew exactly who we were.
While outside, we were able to observe the evening shift change, in which hundreds of workers passed through a poorly designed entrance procedure that allowed many to bypass temperature screenings altogether. Once we were finally allowed inside, and despite an hour and a half spent prepping the facility, we got a firsthand look at the unacceptable and unsafe conditions that workers have been telling our offices about for months. We plan to release additional documentary photos and footage from our visit soon.
There were crude “sanitizer stations” in various locations within DTW1, but we did not observe one worker able to utilize them. The conveyer belts are in continuous motion, multiple workers in close proximity are touching the same products as they move through the facility and no worker has any time to properly sanitize their work station or wash their hands. We’ve been told that while Amazon supposedly suspended quotas during the pandemic, managers are still holding workers to quotas with write-ups and terminations. In our entire tour of the plant, including multiple floors, we observed just one worker with a cleaning supplies cart. There were a few personnel who appeared to have COVID-19 safety roles, but we only observed them in the entryway and nowhere else throughout the massive warehouse.
In short, we observed many of the conditions that concerned Amazon workers have reported to our offices over the last few months. Employee screening is poorly executed, cleaning is insufficient, social distancing is often difficult or impossible and Amazon’s relentless quota system does not allow for breaks for adequate personal hygiene. Moreover, if Amazon is willing to call the police on congresswomen it invited to tour its facility, we can only imagine the harassment and intimidation Amazon workers have faced for speaking out. While some minor improvements have been made, many concerns remain unaddressed.
Amazon has been posting record sales throughout the pandemic, only possible thanks to its fulfillment center workforce. It’s far past time that Amazon workers share in that prosperity, and having a safe workplace is the least Amazon can do. We are grateful to the Amazon workers on the floor who thanked us for being there, and we will not stop advocating for their right to a safe and fair working environment.