Amazon workers, investors and lawmakers are all seeking answers from Amazon about how six people died after a tornado collapsed an Edwardsville, Illinois facility earlier this month. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and other progressive lawmakers sent a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy on Monday, asking that the company detail the events of the warehouse collapse and explain its safety policies.
A series of tornadoes killed more than 80 people on Dec. 10 in Illinois and Kentucky, including the six workers at the Edwardsville facility. Since their deaths, some workers have shared that they were urged to continue working despite expressing concerns about regular warnings of severe weather in the area. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is conducting an investigation into whether anyone is at fault for the collapse (which is a routine OSHA procedure in the event of workplace deaths).
“We’re reviewing the letter and will respond directly, but right now our focus remains on taking care of our employees and partners, the family members of those killed by the tornado, and the communities affected by this tragedy," Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, wrote to Protocol.
Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Sherrod Brown also sent a letter to Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh Monday calling for a federal investigation into Amazon's labor practices, including the company's high injury rates and its safety procedures surrounding the tornado deaths. "Amazon can afford to treat its workers well, and should be held accountable to do so. Today, approximately one out of every 170 U.S. workers is an Amazon employee, underscoring our particular interest in ensuring that the company’s employment practices are fair," the senators wrote in the letter.
A few hundred Amazon workers in New York and other mid-Atlantic facilities also began to circulate a petition on Monday to demand Amazon end a policy of banning cell phones in the workplace. While the policy was temporarily suspended because of COVID-19, the company was reportedly planning to begin reinstating it in January 2021. Workers at the Edwardsville facility were allowed to have access to their cell phones, according to Amazon.
The petition also demands a clear inclement weather policy from the company and asks that it include paid time off for shifts cancelled for weather. "Management puts off deciding whether to cancel the shift until we’ve already arrived at work, then tries to get us to take [Voluntary Time Off] and agree to go home early without pay for the rest of the shift. Often, the official decision to close is made so late that workers end up stranded far from home in now-dangerous weather," the workers, organized by Amazonians United, wrote in the petition.
Some activist shareholders, led by Domini Impact Investments, have also filed a resolution asking Amazon's board of directors for an audit of workplace health and safety. The resolution will likely come up for a vote at the company's annual shareholder meeting in 2022, though few shareholder proposals of this nature successfully win votes at shareholder meetings.
Update: This story was updated with a comment from Amazon and the letter from Rubio and Brown.