Workers at a Kentucky candle factory, and an Amazon warehouse, in Illinois, were told they couldn’t leave work because of inclement conditions that caused damage to both buildings on Friday night. Multiple deaths were also a result.
About 15 employees tried to convince their managers to let them leave the Mayfield Consumer Products candle plant in Mayfield Kentucky, hours before a huge storm of tornadoes struck the city. according to reporting from NBC News.
One worker named McKayla Emery, who was injured in the building’s collapse, recalled what happened that night. At about 5:30 pm, the first tornado siren was heard. After several minutes, Emery said, after it became clear that a tornado strike wasn’t imminent, workers were still concerned for their safety.
“People had questioned if they could leave or go home,” Emery told NBC. Supervisors warned that anyone who leaves could be fired.
“If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired. I heard that with my own ears,” Emery added.
Elijah Johnson, another worker, claimed that the threat of being fired came directly from management.
“I asked to leave and they told me I’d be fired. Even with the weather like this, you’re still going to fire me?” Johnson said he had asked his supervisor. “Yes,” was their reply.
Johnson said that factory managers were so concerned about attendance they even did a roll-call to determine who had stayed and who had gone. Despite warnings from the management, some workers left.
The storm system did eventually reach the factory, completely decimating Mayfield Consumer Products’s campus. The factory had 110 employees that night. eight workers died.
Officials from the company responded by describing the deaths in a positive light. “We’ve had a miracle situation. Only 8 lost,” Mayfield Consumer Products spokesperson Bob Ferguson said.
Just in: Mayfield Consumer Products spox Bob Ferguson told me that all 110 candle factory workers who were inside when the tornado hit have been accounted for. 102 survived, with the final 2 survivors being located “within the hour.”
“We have had a miracle situation. Only 8 people lost.
— Ben Tobin (@Ben__Tobin) December 13, 2021
A series of text messages were sent by one employee at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois on the same night. They suggest that workers were not allowed leave the site as the storm approaches.
Larry Virden sent messages to his girlfriend Cherie Jones the night the building collapsed, telling her that the company wasn’t allowing him to leave and seek shelter elsewhere. Six individuals, including Virden, died as a result of the building’s collapse.
Virden, who lived about 13 minutes away from the warehouse, sent the messages 16 minutes before the tornado that destroyed the building came, suggesting he was told he couldn’t go home at a moment when he had plenty of time to do so.
“Amazon won’t let me leave until after the storm blows over,” Virden texted Jones. Jones said she didn’t fault the company for his death, but questioned why they couldn’t let him go.
“What if they would have let him leave? He could have made it home,” she said.
Since then, the company has brutally blamed the deceased individualsFor their own deaths, even if, as The Intercept uncovered, Amazon employees sayThey receive little to no training for emergency situations like inclement weather. Workers say that, while the warehouse has done fire drills, they haven’t done tornado drills on their shifts at all.
The workplace standards of both Amazon and Mayfield have been questioned by workers’ rights advocates, who say they’re in desperate need of changing.
“How many workers must die for Amazon to have a policy for extreme weather events?” asked sociologist Nantina Vgontzas.
In a press release from the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH), the organization said that investigations into both of these tragedies “must include questions about why workers were on the job during extreme weather conditions.”
“What kind of warning systems were in place? What processes do Amazon and Mayfield have in place for emergency preparedness and response?” asked Marcy Goldstein-Gelb, a co-executive director of COSH.