Amazon deliverers threatened with shooting during tornadoes

Workers use equipment to remove part of the roof left on a badly damaged Amazon fulfillment center in Edwardsville, Illinois. Photo: Jeff Roberson (AP)

Amazon deliverers in the Midwest were faced with horrific choices last week: Keep driving and delivering packages amid blaring tornado warnings or risk getting fired.

text messages viewed by Bloomberg shows the painful dilemma facing Amazon employees amid Friday’s Deadly Tornado Outbreak. In the thread, a driver who contacts their dispatcher tells them that a tornado warning is going off. In response, the dispatcher told the driver, “Just keep driving.”

About 40 minutes later, the driver sent a follow-up text saying they heard tornado sirens all around them. “Keep delivering for now,” the dispatcher replied. “We have to wait for a message from Amazon. If we have to bring people back, the decision is ultimately theirs.”

Fearing that the tornado would turn their van into a “casket,” the driver asked to return to the facility and shelter, but was told it could lead to their termination. “If you decide to return with your packages, it will be considered denial of your route, which will ultimately result in you being out of a job tomorrow morning,” the dispatcher said. “The sirens are just a warning.”

The driver was reportedly about 30 miles (48 kilometers) away from Amazon’s Edwardsville, Illinois, warehouse, which was decimated by one of the tornadoes that ripped through six states. At least six workers died when the storm tore the facility’s roof, destroying two 12-foot-high concrete walls. Forty-five other workers sheltering on the spot were rescued. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has since research collapse in the warehouse.

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Both warehouse workers and drivers risked their lives during Amazon’s busiest season of the year. Online sales rise almost every day before Christmas, and online ordering generally has a boost due to changing shopping habits due to the pandemic. Amazon’s reliance on a dispersed network of indentured laborers to deliver packages reportedly complicated rescue efforts and created challenges for local law enforcement to figure out how many people were there, according to the facility. the New York Times.

When asked why its drivers delivered packages during well-predicted and extremely dangerous storms, Amazon tried to put most of the blame on the shipper.

“This was an evolving situation across a broad geographic area, and unfortunately the delivery service partner coordinator did not follow standard safety practices,” an Amazon spokesperson told Bloomberg. “This dispatcher should have immediately instructed the driver to seek shelter when the driver reported hearing tornado sirens. While this text exchange was underway, the local Amazon team made sure that each delivery service partner had referred its drivers to seek shelter or shelter on site and advised them to stop delivering for the evening.

But the lax or even nonexistent safety standards fit a pattern; other workers interviewed by Bloomberg claimed to have received minimal training about weather safety. A previous executive who worked at a fulfillment center near the destroyed facility claimed that the company had not conducted a single tornado drill in the entire two years he worked there. Amazon disputes that, saying employees should undergo training each year on safety and emergency plans.

These first-hand testimonials from drivers and facilities workers are likely to add to a growing number of concerns about Amazon’s security practices. This week, a group of Amazon shareholders submitted a resolution request to senior management to conduct an independent workplace safety audit within the company. That resolution — to be voted on in May next year — looks beyond weather conditions and would seek to explore ways in which Amazon’s efficiency-maximization business practices and productivity trackers can contribute to worker injuries. The tech giant has faced criticism and legal challenges for: fire a worker who spoke out about unsafe covid-19 protocols, employees have be ready for the service during deadly floods, and keep warehouses open during extreme heat.

Amazon did not immediately respond to Gizmodo’s request for comment on the resolution.

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