Dingell, Tlaib say there was ‘no misunderstanding’ on Amazon calling the cops on them 

Congresswomen call facility ‘unacceptable and unsafe’

Amazon employees hold a protest and walkout over conditions at the company's Staten Island distribution facility on March 30, 2020 in New York City. Workers at many facilities across the country have protested conditions, as employees have tested positive for the coronavirus. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

After U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) said police were called on them last week while they sought to tour an Amazon facility to monitor working conditions, they described the Romulus site as “unacceptable and unsafe” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tlaib and Dingell said there was “no misunderstanding” with the company calling the police during their Friday visit to the Amazon fulfillment center known as “DTW1.”

“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,” Tlaib and Dingell said.

The congresswomen said they plan to release additional documentary photos and footage from the visit soon. 

Police called on congresswomen during Amazon facility visit

“We observed many of the conditions that concerned Amazon workers have reported to our offices over the last few months,” Dingell and Tlaib wrote in a joint statement. “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 officials apologized for the incident in a statement published by Newsweek.

“There was an unfortunate misunderstanding when one of our night shift security guards was not expecting external visitors to be filming onsite and was not aware of the identity of those filming at the entryway of the facility,” the organization responded. “The situation was resolved and we toured the Congresswomen through the site.”

The Amazon facility had a number of COVID-19 cases linked back to it. Earlier this spring, workers threatened to strike if working conditions didn’t improve.

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Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Dingell and Tlaib have been working with current and former Amazon employees and the organization United For Respect to address what they describe as unsafe conditions and unfair practices at DTW1 and other Amazon facilities. They wrote letters to Amazon leadership on April 3 and April 16 expressing their concern. Dingell and Tlaib were then extended an invitation to visit the site. 

After Amazon’s corporate office continued to deny the repeated accounts of Amazon workers on the ground at DTW1, Dingell and Tlaib wrote a letter to OSHA on May 13 calling for an investigation into Amazon’s unsafe conditions. 

It was shortly thereafter that the company extended an open invite to the congresswomen. 

“Amazon has been posting record sales throughout the pandemic, only possible thanks to its fulfillment center workforce,” Tlaib and Dingell said. “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.”

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.