Following the collapse of an Amazon warehouse in Illinois after it was impacted by deadly tornadoes, killing at least six people, questions are being raised about the company’s treatment of its workforce that may have contributed to the deadly outcome of the disaster.
On Friday night, an Amazon fulfillment center was the site of catastrophe after a tornado formed in the parking lot of the facility and toppled the warehouse’s massive walls on night shift workers trapped inside.
Far be it from being a straightforward natural disaster, however, the company’s policies – such as banning workers from carrying their mobile phones during their shifts – may have prevented workers from being updated during the extreme weather event.
For years, the e-commerce titan has maintained a notorious workplace cell phone ban that restricted employees from carrying their personal devices on warehouse floors. While the ban was relaxed during the height of the pandemic, it has since been revived in full force. Workers are now saying that the ban contributed to the deadly outcome of the tornado.
“After these deaths, there is no way in hell I am relying on Amazon to keep me safe,” said one worker from a nearby facility, according to TIME. “If they institute the no cell phone policy, I am resigning.”
Another Amazon employee at an Indiana fulfillment center said that she plans to keep her phone on her at all times and would use her paid time off during extreme weather.
“I don’t trust them with my safety to be quite frank,” she said. “If there’s severe weather on the way, I think I should be able to make my own decision about safety.”
One worker at an Amazon facility across the street from the doomed Edwardsville warehouse said: “After this, everyone is definitely afraid of not being able to keep their phones on them. Most employees that I’ve talked to don’t keep their phones on them for personal conversation throughout the day, it’s genuinely for situations like this.”
The company has infamously remained open in past extreme weather events, such as during historic heatwaves in June and during September’s Tropical Depression Ida, when New York City saw streets flooded while Amazon workers in the metropolis continued to work around the clock.
Amazon has pushed back against the claims, with one spokesperson telling Gizmodo that employees actually were allowed to keep their cellphones on them at the work site. The company representative refrained from clarifying if phones could be kept on their person on the warehouse floor, basically dodging the crux of the actual issue at hand.
After the Gizmodo story was published, however, an Amazon spokesperson claimed that warehouse workers could keep their phones on the facility’s floor.
This hasn’t stopped workers’ rights groups from blasting the tech giant for its shoddy treatment of its workforce. On Saturday, Illinois-based Warehouse Workers for Justice released a statement calling for the government to look into the policies that may have contributed to Friday’s catastrophe.
“Because of Amazon’s poor record of worker safety in the relentless pursuit of profit, we call on Illinois legislators to convene a hearing to ensure all Amazon facilities are places of safety for workers and that no family has to worry whether or not their loved ones will make it home from work after an extreme weather event,” the statement noted.
“A tornado might be a rare and extreme event, but Amazon’s disregard for worker safety is a chronic pattern that puts workers in danger every day,” the statement also read.
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