Progressive lawmakers are seeking answers on Amazon’s role in deaths caused by a warehouse collapse earlier this month after reports emerged showing that the company didn’t allow employees to leave even when a tornado was about to strike.
A joint effort by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D.Massachusetts), and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D.New York) and Cori Bus (D.Missouri). lawmakers have demanded that Amazon explain “what happened at your Edwardsville warehouse and whether your policies may have contributed to this tragedy.”
On December 10, a series of tornadoes struck parts of the South as well as the Midwest. One of these tornadoes tore through an Amazon warehouse near Edwardsville, Illinois. It could lead to its collapseSix workers were killed.
Reports released after the collapse put the company’s policies under scrutiny. Texts sent that night from Larry Virden, one of the workers who died, suggested that managers weren’t allowing employees to leave when it was clear that there would be a window of safety before the tornado hit. Other warehouse workers also noted that a company policy banning employees from having phones at work might have put lives in danger, and that the company didn’t adequately Prepare workers for an emergencyIf at all
In their 10-page letter to Amazon, the Democrats seek answers to a long list of questions about Amazon’s safety policies, requesting a response no later than January 3. The letter includes questions about the company’s inclement weather and phone policies, and asks the company to provide details on previous deaths that have happened on site.
23 members of Congress signed the letter, including Senators Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey (D–Massachusetts), and Representatives Ilhanomar (D–Minnesota), AyannaPressley (D–Massachusetts), and Rashida Talib (D–Michigan).
The letter points out that Amazon has a history of creating unsafe working conditions for its workers. “Amazon profits should never come at the cost of workers’ lives, health, and safety,” the lawmakers wrote. The lawmakers praised OSHA’s investigation into the collapse of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“With atrocious conditions for workers, including constant surveillance and intolerance for bathroom breaks during grueling, 11-hour shifts, Amazon literally grinds down the bodies of its workers,” the lawmakers continued. “These are just the everyday costs of Amazon’s inhumane business model. As the Edwardsville tragedy shows, the stakes are even higher in emergencies.”
The company was able to keep a New York warehouse open during Hurricane Ida in Sept.; in previous years, it has kept warehouses open and made sure that delivery drivers stayed on their routes in extreme weather conditions despite the dangers they present to the workers. Record breaking year heat wave in the West earlier this yearWarehouses remained open even though workers complained about rising temperatures. One facility had temperatures that reportedly reached nearly 90 degrees.
These problems are magnified by Amazon. Accused of union busting for years, raising concerns that its workers don’t have the collective power to demand safer working conditions. In their letter, Congress members condemned the company for its anti-union efforts, calling the deaths on December 10th “a sobering reminder of how dangerous it is when workers are denied collective bargaining power.”