The day after an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, collapsed during Friday’s tornado, killing six workers, an Amazon employee in a neighboring Indiana fulfillment center vented on an internal message board. “I know it’s the weekend and Amazon was busy blasting Michael Strahan and other wealthy people into space but can we get any kind of statement about the ‘mass casualty incident’ in Illinois,” the employee wrote Saturday afternoon. “I feel something could be said or a plan of action to review tornado and [severe] weather safety could be announced,” adding that “we had tornado touchdowns not far” from the Jacksonville, Indiana, fulfillment center.
The complaint, one of several posted to the company’s internal “Voice of Associates” message board and provided to The Intercept, reflects a concern expressed by a dozen Amazon employees who spoke about the lack of workplace safety afforded to workers across the country — not just during extreme weather events, but in general.
Many employees, all of whom requested anonymity to protect their jobs, said they had never experienced a tornado or even a fire drill in their six-year careers at Amazon. Several people expressed concern about not knowing what to do in an emergency. In one case, an Amazon contractor asked to leave early due to Hurricane Ida but was told that doing so would jeopardize their performance quota.
Amazon has not responded to The Intercept’s requests for comment on why employees were not told to stay at home during the tornado warnings. According to an employee who provided screenshots before and after the messages were encrypted, the company went an extra step yesterday by encrypting internal help ticket messages about the Illinois facility, making them inaccessible to most workers. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on why the records had been encrypted.
The messages revealed a communication breakdown in which corporate failed to notify employees about the tornado even as it happened. “Corporate jobs and IT were troubleshooting network outages and found out the building was hit by a tornado from the media,” said the employee who provided the communications. “What the correspondence showed was that initially, nobody knew what was happening. More and more people joined in on the tickets to troubleshoot the issues only to find out from the media that the building was hit by a tornado.”
The narrative was “absolutely heart-breaking,” the employee added. “It looks like they had almost no warning. “Now workers are demanding better safety practices to avoid another calamity like the one in Edwardsville. “I’m sure we all have heard about the Amazon in Illinois that got totally destroyed by a tornado,” wrote a second employee in the Indiana fulfillment center, “curious as to why we don’t have tornado drills like we do fire drills?”
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“I have been here six and a half years and have never once been involved in a tornado safety drill on my shift, as well as have not taken part in a fire safety drill in about two years,” echoed a third employee. “This whole situation has got me thinking our site really needs to revise its safety drills because you never know when disaster and tragedy can strike.”
When asked why so many employees had not practiced safety drills, an Amazon spokesperson, Kelly Nantel, responded in an email, “Emergency response training is provided to new employees and that training is reinforced throughout the year.”
LeeAnn Webster, 48, was a former employee who served on the safety committee at the Amazon fulfillment center in Kent, Washington, from 2016 to last year. Webster stated that she repeatedly raised safety concerns with management but was frequently dismissed. Her main concern was the lack of safety drills, which she claimed had not been practiced in several years. ‘
“Drills are the most important part of safety,” Webster said. “It gives you a sense of where you’re supposed to go, and completing the task even in a simulated situation can prepare your body and mind to remain calm. People tend to freak out in emergency situations.”
Webster’s viewpoint is consistent with that of the federal government. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends that “workers are trained and plans are practiced to ensure that personnel is familiar with what to do in the event of a tornado.” CNBC reported on Monday that OSHA had launched a six-month investigation into the Edwardsville warehouse collapse.
Among the few employees who told The Intercept they had taken part in safety drills, many described chaos as a result of a rushed exercise with little to no direction communicated. “I’ve had better drills in public school,” a fulfillment center employee in Indiana said.
According to Webster, Amazon’s safety issues go far beyond extreme weather preparedness. According to a recent report by the National Employment Law Project, Amazon warehouse workers in Minnesota are injured at a rate that is more than double that of non-Amazon warehouse workers in the state. “The other major safety concern is people injuring themselves in a rush to make numbers so they don’t get written up,” Webster explained. “There is no product coming through, your numbers are low, you could get a write-up and potentially lose your job — that is a major complaint.” As a result, people would rush, and they would be injured.”
Source: The Intercept
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