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Tlaib, Dingell seek federal probe of Amazon site conditions amid pandemic

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Two members of Michigan's congressional delegation are asking federal officials to investigate working conditions at Amazon facilities nationwide following complaints from staffers at the online retail giant's Romulus fulfillment center about a lack of protections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Workers walk off the job at the Amazon Fulfillment Center midday in Romulus Wednesday , April 1, 2020.

U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, and Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, sent a letter Wednesday to Loren Sweatt, the deputy assistant secretary of labor with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. In it, the lawmakers said they "have consistently heard from our constituents" about managers failing to follow corporate policies at Amazon warehouse facilities.

"Worker concerns persist, from an inability to maintain social distancing to a lack of personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer," their letter said. "This is not isolated to our districts, as reports continue to surface across the country about unsafe conditions in Amazon facilities and Amazon workers dying from COVID-19.”

Last month, workers at the Romulus site participated in a walkout, alleging the company did not protect their health and the safety or that of customers. The action followed others at Amazon locations on the East Coast and in Chicago.

Employees at the Wayne County facility reported multiple examples of concerning conditions during the virus outbreak, Tlaib and Dingell wrote. Those included:

•Lack of social distancing around workstations, with some spaced only three feet apart and managers telling staffers "a person is not at risk of exposure unless they stood within six feet of an individual who tested positive for more than 15 minutes."

•No increased cleaning or availability of cleaning supplies

•Employees not being informed which shifts or stations had colleagues who tested positive

•Leave policies that don't allow workers to stay home to avoid the spread

Inadequate safety practices at Amazon's facilities "present unacceptable risks for workers and threaten to exacerbate our larger public health crisis," the congresswomen wrote.

“... In light of the continued spread of COVID-19 through Amazon facilities, the number of workers affected, and the millions of packages leaving their warehouses during this crisis, we request that OSHA conduct an immediate investigation into workplace safety in Amazon facilities nationwide and issue guidance to Amazon about policies it must implement to keep their workers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic."

Amazon representatives did not immediately provide a response Wednesday to the letter.

In a statement to The Detroit News last month, the company said it had been consulting with health authorities and medical experts on how to handle building closures during deep cleaning if an employee tests positive for COVID-19. Amazon also said it implemented health measures at its sites, including increasing cleaning and sanitizing, shifting start times or breaks, as well as asking employees to defer non-essential travel.

"We have taken extreme measures to keep people safe, tripling down on deep cleaning, procuring safety supplies that are available and changing processes to ensure those in our buildings are keeping safe distances," the company's statement said. "The truth is the vast majority of employees continue to show up and do the heroic work of delivering for customers every day."

Nationally, Amazon has provided masks and gloves as well as checked employees' temperatures, and the company has said it is developing an internal lab that could potentially provide coronavirus tests for all employees, even those without symptoms. the Associated Press reported.