December 20, 2021

Wyden, Colleagues Demand Answers from Amazon after Tornado Collapses Warehouse and Kills Six Employees

Senators’ letter: Amazon’s Workplace Safety Failures, Anti-Worker and Anti-Union Efforts Puts Profits Over Workers’ Lives

Washington, D.C.   U.S. Senator Ron Wyden said today he has joined colleagues in calling out anti-worker and anti-union practices in a letter to Amazon demanding answers about the circumstances that led to the death of six employees after an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois collapsed during a tornado on December 10, 2021.

“We have heard alarming reports about the events that took place in the warehouse moments prior to the tragedy, and these reports fit a larger pattern: Amazon puts worker safety at risk in everyday situations and emergencies alike,” Wyden and colleagues wrote Amazon’s Executive Chairman, Jeff Bezos, and its President and CEO, Andy Jassy.  "As we work to ensure that tragedies such as this one are not repeated, we seek answers about what happened at your Edwardsville warehouse and whether your policies may have contributed to this tragedy."

The lawmakers called out Amazon’s anti-worker and anti-union policies and expressed grave concerns about how Amazon’s policies may have contributed to these deaths, and other health and safety problems affecting its workers. The members pressed Amazon for answers about its policies and actions in Edwardsville and at other Amazon facilities in the country.

On December 10, 2021, six Amazon employees: Austin J. McEwen, DeAndre S. Morrow, Clayton Lynn Cope, Etheria S. Hebb, Larry E. Virden, and Kevin D. Dickey, were killed after a tornado collapsed its Edwardsville warehouse and trapped workers inside.  

Though the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for the area 36 hours before the tornado touched down, Amazon reportedly did not provide its employees in Edwardsville any advance instructions or flexibility to remain sheltered safely at home. Even when the tornado hit, the company’s internal message board did not send its employees any updates. And when the 155 miles per hour winds hit the warehouse, its walls collapsed and the roof caved in, raising questions about whether it was built to ensure worker safety.  

After this tragedy, workers expressed concerns about inadequate workplace safety, including the fact that Amazon held no tornado drills and infrequent fire drills. These concerns fit into an ongoing, company-wide pattern of exploitative labor practices, including neglecting safety, denying fair wages and benefits, using union-busting tactics against workers organizing for better conditions, and retaliating against whistleblowers. While Amazon earned $21 billion in 2020, and Jeff Bezos is worth $184 billion, many of its workers cannot support themselves on their low wages and have high workplace injury rates.

The members revealed how the effects of Amazon’s negligent and exploitative labor practices are a part of their business model – not an exception: 

  • At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, from March 2020 to October 2020, at least 20,000 Amazon employees tested positive for COVID-19, yet nationwide, workers were forced to return to warehouses or they would be fired. 
  • During Hurricane Ida in 2021, Amazon warehouses remained open, even as flooding led to 14 deaths in New York
  • During Hurricane Irma in 2017, drivers were forced to deliver packages 
  • During California’s deadly wildfires in 2018, warehouse workers were forced to work for two days in unsafe air quality conditions 
  • During the Pacific Northwest’s extreme heat in 2021, Amazon workers were forced to work, sometimes in 90-degree warehouses 

The letter was led by Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Representatives Cori Bush, D-Mo., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. In addition to Wyden, the letter also was signed by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Sherrod Brown, D- Ohio, Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., and Representatives Jesús G. “Chuy” García, D-Ill., Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y., Barbara Lee, D-Calif., Andy Levin, D-Mich., Jerry McNerney, D-Calif., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Donald M. Payne, Jr., D-N.J., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Rashida Tlaib, D.-Mich., Paul D. Tonko, D-N.Y., Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., James P. McGovern, D-Mass., and Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y.

Read the full letter here.