Democrats press Amazon for details on tornado warehouse deaths

Senators and House representatives, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Cori Bush, have sent a letter to Amazon asking if the company’s policies played a role in the deaths of six workers after a tornado hit an Illinois warehouse earlier this month. An extreme weather event on Dec. 10 killed at least 58 people in the Midwest. The fulfillment center was destroyed in the incident.

In the letter, obtained by The Verge, Democratic lawmakers claim that “Amazon is endangering worker safety in both everyday situations and emergencies” and that the incident “fits into a larger pattern.” The group asked CEO Andy Jassy and executive chairman Jeff Bezos whether Amazon’s “policies may have contributed to this tragedy.”

The senators and representatives demand details about Amazon’s security policy and information about the employees at the fulfillment center on the day of the incident. They also want to know if the company has told employees to stay at the warehouse in light of a tornado warning. The group – which includes representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar and Sens. Bernie Sanders and Ed Markey – asked for a response before January 3.

Lawmakers also expressed concern about Amazon’s reported plans to reinstate the ban on using phones on the warehouse floor. The company confirmed last weekend that it would allow employees to continue using phones. Employees requested access to their devices so they can receive safety alerts and stay in touch during emergencies.

A report from Bloomberg last week details an exchange between a delivery person in the area and a dispatcher. The dispatcher told the driver to “keep delivering packages” despite warning sirens and radar indicating that a tornado attack was imminent. Amazon said the dispatcher did not follow safety guidelines and they should have instructed the driver to seek shelter. It is investigating the matter.

“Amazon’s profits should never come at the expense of the life, health and safety of our community,” Rep. Bush in a statement to The Verge. “This should not come at the expense of doing business in America.” Two of the workers killed were Bush voters.

Engadget has contacted Amazon for comment.

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