Health inspector was denied access to Nike distribution center with positive COVID cases.
Back in April, the Nike Distribution plant in Memphis, Tennessee, received a visit from the Shelby County Health Department after the company had received complaints about the lack of safety precautions inside amid the coronavirus. But, the facility’s security guard refused to let the inspector in. In fact, when the visitor introduced herself and explained the reason she was there, the guard directly denied her access. At least one complaint about conditions at the facility visited by the environmental health worker was also filed with the Tennessee Occupational Safety and Health Administration and just a month later, 21 workers have tested positive for COVID-19.
An estimated 3,000 employees work at Nike’s distribution centers in the Memphis area, fulfilling online orders placed nationwide. In the two-month span between March 26 and May 12, the county’s Health Department received over 200 COVID-19 complaints about businesses not following safety guidelines. However, the department confirmed that the plant visited in April was the only one at which the department was not granted access.
The day after the environmentalist was denied entry, a Nike administrator called to say the facility had installed markers on the floor six feet apart to guide employees and would be closed once a week for cleaning. With that explanation, the Health Department was satisfied, and a follow visit wasn’t scheduled. The environmentalist “felt at that time there was nothing else that needed to be done,” said Kasia Alexander, environmental health administrator for the department.
“The department has the authority to summon police to access a business immediately, and has exercised that authority in the past,” said Dr. Bruce Randolph, the department’s health director. Yet, he added, “We don’t just automatically get law enforcement involved simply because the first time we show up, some security and management person refuses to allow us access.”
A Nike spokesperson said the company “has taken extensive measures to minimize workers’ exposure to the virus, including expanding social distancing in doorways, breakrooms, the warehouse floor and other areas from 3 feet to 6 feet in early April. There’s plexiglass separating workstations and markings on tables showing how far apart workers should sit.” Nike also began to conduct temperature checks of all employees, temporary workers, and visitors to its plants.
Still, David Michaels, a former federal OSHA administrator, was leery of the company’s decision to not allow the health worker in. He said, “The state and county officials are responsible for protecting the health of the public. The Health Department should know that this virus doesn’t stop at the warehouse gate, that lack of social distancing in the facility will affect not only the workers there, and increase their risk of disease, [but] also their families and the entire community.”
Willie Gregory, Nike’s director of global community impact, also felt it was “inappropriate” to keep the Health Department out and reiterated that the guard was employed via a third-party. “If you’re doing the right thing, you should give admittance to those people,” he said.
In a May 14 press release, Nike President and CEO John Donahoe said, “The full extent of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on NIKE’s operational and financial performance remains uncertain and will depend on many factors outside of NIKE’s control. We have increased our digital fulfillment capacity to meet this higher than anticipated demand which is partially offsetting declines in NIKE-owned stores.”