At least a dozen employees at Rivian Automotive Inc. have accused the electric-vehicle maker of safety violations at its Illinois plant, according to complaints filed with federal regulators.
The complaints were filed in conjunction with the UAW, which has been trying to organize the non-union plant for the past year. Rivian says its safety performance is better than its industrial peers.
The complaints allege the company ignored known hazards and deprioritized safety resources, leaving some workers to share respirators needed during the manufacturing process. They also detail a range of injuries, including a crushed hand, a broken foot, a sliced ear and broken ribs. One Rivian employee said management fished damaged electrical cables out of the garbage and told employees to use them.
Together, the filings depict an automaker that cut corners as it scaled rapidly to keep pace in the competitive EV space. Some employees described safety protocols that faded as production pressures grew on its trademark plug-in pickup.
“There’s a certain level of danger involved in manufacturing,” Don Jackson, one of the employees who filed a complaint, said in an interview. “But I was expecting safety to be a little more prioritized.”
In statements to Bloomberg News, a Rivian spokesperson disputed workers’ allegations but declined to comment on specific complaints, citing employee privacy. The spokesperson said the dozen complainants represent just 0.2 percent of the 6,700 employees at the plant.
“Creating a safe and inspiring environment is a daily practice we expect of every Rivian employee and is part of our operating procedures,” the company said in an emailed statement, adding: “We are not aware of any manager directing employees to share respirators.”
The allegations were filed over the past two months with the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and are directed at the automaker’s only operational plant, in Normal, Ill. All 12 employees, one of whom has since left Rivian, filed their complaints in coordination with the UAW, which has been trying to organize Rivian plant workers over the past year. The UAW shared the filings with Bloomberg News. The Normal plant had been unionized under its previous owner, Mitsubishi Motors.
Concerns for safety
Several of the complaints describe hazards that did not result in injury, but that employees feared would.
Jackson, who joined the company in March, said in his complaint that “trucks frequently veer into pedestrian aisles” and bulldoze racks in a manner that could cause them to accidentally strike people.
There have been “many near misses” with powered industrial vehicles nearly hitting people, wrote Kailey Harvey, another employee. Sensors meant to display whether trucks were correctly locked in place sometimes give false readings because they aren’t calibrated to the height of the vehicles, she wrote.
“At first, it was really great,” Harvey, a former UAW member who joined Rivian last year, said in an interview. “Slowly, as production kept climbing, the concern for safety dropped.”
In a short period of time, Irvine, California-based Rivian has recruited an army of engineers, vehicle assembly technicians and factory floor managers from legacy automotive names such as Ford Motor Co. and General Motors, mostly at its flagship plant in Normal, which is capable of building 150,000 electric vehicles a year.
It’s also hired top talent from Tesla Inc. and Apple Inc. as part of a push to scale up and produce mass-market EVs.