US surveillance panel to investigate Amazon’s labor practices for severe weather conditions


Workers remove debris from an Amazon fulfillment center in Edwardsville, Illinois, on December 11, 2021, after it was struck by a tornado. Tornadoes ripped through five US states, causing multiple fatalities at an Amazon warehouse in Illinois that sustained “catastrophic damage” with about 100 people trapped inside.

Image: Getty Images

Democrats on the US House Oversight Committee have launched a workplace safety investigation into Amazon’s labor practices after tornadoes killed six of the company’s employees at its Edwardsville, Illinois distribution center.

According to allegations presented to the committee, Amazon employees and contractors were threatened by their executives with layoffs or other harm to their employment if they left work to seek adequate shelter and safety as the tornadoes approached.

In a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy late last week informing him of the investigation, three Democrats — committee chair Carolyn Maloney, Cori Bush and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — expressed concern about Amazon’s labor practices during tornadoes, hurricanes and other extreme events. weather conditions.

“As one of our nation’s largest and most profitable companies, it is imperative that Amazon protects employee safety and refrains from practices that could endanger them,” Democratic committee members wrote in the letter.

As part of the investigation, the oversight committee is asking Amazon to provide an explanation for how the deaths occurred at the Illinois distribution center. The committee is also seeking Amazon’s documentation detailing its attendance and leave policies, as well as emergency drills and communications prior to last year’s tornado regarding severe weather protocol and preparedness.

The letter also requested information about disciplinary action against employees or contractors who failed to work during the 2018 California wildfires, extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest last summer, and flooding during Hurricanes Irma in 2017 and Ida in 2021.

According to reports to the commission, Amazon forced employees to “stay at work” even during those extreme weather events.

“Edwardsville was not an isolated incident,” the letter reads.

This isn’t the first time Amazon’s labor practices have come under scrutiny for putting its employees at risk, as the tech giant is already facing a lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James over alleged lack of adequate health care. and safety measures for workers throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

The probe also comes as workers at an Amazon warehouse in New York City voted to unionize, marking the first time employees at the company have done so. The final result was 2,654 yes and 2,131 against, with 67 challenges. In an online statement, Amazon said it was “disappointed with the election outcome because we believe a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees,” before stating it would assess its options.

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