An Amazon dispatcher pressured a driver to keep delivering packages amid tornado alerts

An Amazon dispatcher in Illinois told a driver to continue delivering packages even after tornado sirens warned of an incoming danger. That’s according to screenshots shared by Bloomberg this week documenting an exchange that reportedly happened last Friday, shortly before a tornado hit an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, leading to a structural collapse and six deaths. “Just keep driving,” the dispatcher said in a message sent at 7:08 p.m. that evening. “We can’t just call people back for a warning unless Amazon tells us to.”

After being told to “keep delivering” a second time about half an hour later, the driver said she wanted to return for her safety. “If you look at the radar, the worst storm will be over me in 30 minutes.” She was told she would lose her job if she drove back.

“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. “I’m literally stuck in this goddamn van with no safe place to deal with a tornado on the ground,” the driver messaged before being told to take shelter in his place.

In a statement to Bloomberg, Amazon said the coordinator did not follow security guidelines. The company also said it is investigating the incident and the driver is safe. Here’s the full text of the statement it shared with the outlet:

This was an evolving situation over a large geographic area and unfortunately the delivery service partner coordinator did not follow standard safety practices. 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. We’re happy the driver is safe and are using the lessons learned from this incident to improve our policies and guidelines for delivery service partners and drivers. Under no circumstances must the dispatcher have threatened the driver’s employment, and we are investigating the full details of this incident and will take appropriate action.

Amazon’s policy has led to several incidents where employees had to clock in even in extreme weather. In September, when Tropical Depression Ida caused widespread flooding in New York City, the retailer kept its warehouses open. In 2017, drivers told Bryan Menegus of Engadget, then writing for Gizmodo, that they were delivering packages in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma. The company is also known for keeping its facilities open even in extreme heat. During the historic heat wave that hit the Pacific Northwest last summer, workers were forced to work even as temperatures in one of the company’s facilities approached 90 degrees.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the Illinois warehouse collapse. According to employees who spoke to Bloomberg, the facility was not conducting drills for the tornado that would have prepared them for the emergency.

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