“I’m literally stuck in this damn van without a safe place to go with a tornado on the ground!”
by Kenny Stancil, Common Dreams
Friday, December 17, 2021
More damning information about last week’s deadly workplace disaster at an Amazon building in Illinois emerged on Friday when a delivery driver shared records of a conversation she had with her boss, which revealed that the e-commerce giant threatened to fire her if she didn’t keep delivering packages even as tornado sirens blared.
“Keep delivering,” her boss replied. “We can’t just call people back for a warning unless Amazon tells us to.”
Amazon was already in hot water for forcing employees to attend their shifts last Friday despite the impending storm and refusing to let them leave before catastrophe struck. Six workers were crushed to death when a warehouse that is being investigated for possible building code violations collapsed—exemplifying the company’s long track record of prioritizing profits over occupational safety, critics say.
New evidence that Amazon also pressured delivery drivers to work through a tornado instead of immediately helping them obtain safe shelter has only increased the amount of contempt that many people have for one of the world’s most powerful corporations.
“More details emerge about lives put in danger by Amazon’s dehumanization of workers and its gigantic, chaotic bureaucracy,” tweeted Athena Coalition, a nonprofit group made up of more than 50 organizations that are “building democratic power to stand up to Amazon’s abuse of our communities.”
Amazon: Some of "our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm” ☹️
Also Amazon: "If you decide to return with your packages, it will be viewed as you refusing your route, which will ultimately end with you not having a job come tomorrow morning” https://t.co/FOCMlEtqKF pic.twitter.com/rKLmYP2NQe
— Brian Kahn (@blkahn) December 17, 2021
The exchange shows that roughly 30 minutes after the driver informed her boss about the radio warnings, she said that “tornado alarms are going off over here.”
“Shelter in place for now,” the boss instructed the driver minutes later. “Give it about 15-20 minutes and then continue as normal. I will let everyone know if that changes.”
At this point, the driver indicated that she wanted to return to the warehouse for her own safety. “Having alarms going off next to me and nothing but locked building[s] around me isn’t sheltering in place,” she said. “That’s waiting to turn this van into my casket.”
The driver pointed out that her delivery shift ended in just an hour. “And if you look at the radar the worst of the storm is gonna be right on top of me in 30 minutes,” she added.
To which the boss replied: “If you decide to come back, that choice is yours. But I can tell you it won’t be viewed as for your own safety. The safest practice is to stay exactly where you are. If you decide to return with your packages it will be viewed as you refusing your route, which will ultimately end with you not having a job come tomorrow morning. The sirens are just a warning.”
“I’m literally stuck in this damn van without a safe place to go with a tornado on the ground!” the driver said.
Bloomberg, which reviewed text messages from contract drivers and interviewed current and former workers, reported that Amazon employees “said they received instructions on what do in fires or tornadoes, but never did the kind of drills that could help avoid confusion in an emergency. Training for new hires entails merely pointing out emergency exits and assembly points, they said.”
Earlier this week, The Daily Poster reported that prior to last week’s tornado disaster—which also killed eight workers at a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky—corporate lobbyists, including groups linked to Amazon, obstructed a bill designed to protect the jobs of employees who leave an unsafe workplace.
“In the months before workers were reportedly barred from abandoning their job site or threatened with termination if they fled this weekend’s deadly tornadoes, corporate lobbying groups were fighting legislation to prohibit retribution against employees who seek to leave work out of fear for their safety,” the news outlet reported. “Amazon—which owns a warehouse where several workers were killed—and its staffing firm have links to corporate lobbying groups that have been opposing the legislation, which remains stalled.”
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