The Intercept - December 13, 2021
THE DAY AFTER an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, collapsed amid Friday’s tornado, killing six workers, an Amazon employee in a fulfillment center in neighboring Indiana took to the internal message board to vent. “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 touch downs 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 related to extreme weather events but to hazards in general. Many workers, all of whom requested anonymity to protect their jobs, said they had never had a tornado or even a fire drill over the course of their careers at Amazon, dating back up to six years. Several expressed that they would be unsure of what to do in an emergency. In one case, an Amazon contractor, fearing Hurricane Ida, asked to go home early but was told that leaving would adversely affect their performance quota.
Amazon has not responded to The Intercept’s requests for comment about why employees were not instructed to stay home amid the tornado warnings. The company took an additional step yesterday by encrypting internal help ticket messages about the Illinois facility, making them inaccessible to most workers, according to an employee who provided screenshots before and after the messages were encrypted. 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 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 heartbreaking,” the employee added. “It looks like they had almost no warning.”
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