House Democrats have asked Amazon CEO Andy Jassy to hand over documents about Amazon's labor practices and safety procedures in its warehouses during extreme weather events based on concerns about the collapse of an Edwardsville, Illinois, facility that killed six workers in December 2021.
Members of the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee said in a March 31 letter to Jassy that they have received reports that the company asks its workers to stay in facilities during extreme weather events like the tornado that caused the Edwardsville collapse, as well as wildfires in California in 2018 and Hurricanes Irma and Ida in 2017 and 2021, respectively. The politicians are seeking documents related to the Edwardsville deaths and plan to use the information to inform potential legislation.
"Our focus continues to be on supporting our employees and partners, the families who lost loved ones, the surrounding community, and all those affected by the tornadoes. We will respond to this letter in due course," Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said in a statement to Protocol.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened an investigation into the Edwardsville deaths shortly after the tornado and has not yet closed that process; it is standard for OSHA to investigate workplace deaths like these. After the warehouse collapse, some workers reported confusing instructions about safety procedures during the tornado and alleged that the company had not allowed workers to leave work in order to avoid the severe weather.
Before Edwardsville, Amazon warehouse safety had already become a popular topic of investigation for state and federal politicians after a 2020 report from a union advocacy research group revealed that Amazon's average severe injury rates were the highest among its warehouse competitors, and more than two times higher than Walmart's. Some states, including California, Washington and Minnesota, have since debated bills that would require Amazon to be more transparent about productivity expectations in hope of improving safety, and California passed one such bill at the end of 2021.
"The Committee seeks to fully understand the events that led to the tragedy at Amazon’s Edwardsville facility. We also seek information about Amazon’s workplace policies or practices that may have prevented the workers from seeking safe shelter, as well as Amazon’s actions in responding to other severe weather incidents and natural disasters," the committee members wrote in their March 31 letter.