December 20, 2021

Warren, Bush, Ocasio-Cortez Demand Answers from Amazon after Tornado Collapses Warehouse and Kills Six Employees

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

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representatives Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Amazon’s Executive Chairman, Jeff Bezos, and its President and CEO, Andy Jassy, 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. They called out Amazon’s anti-worker and anti-union policies and expressed grave concerns about how Amazon’s policies may have contributed to these tragic 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.

The letter was also signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D- Ohio), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), 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.).

“The circumstances that led to six deaths at the Edwardsville warehouse are heartbreaking and another reminder that Amazon’s anti-worker and anti-union practices put their workers directly in harm’s way. Putting corporate profits above the health and safety of workers is unacceptable. Amazon must answer for its exploitative labor practices – and we cannot let a tragedy like this happen ever again,” said Senator Warren. 

“People are not dispensable. People are worth more than profits. People are why this company even had the resources to build this center in the first place. People are what make this country thrive,” said Congresswoman Cori Bush. “My heart shattered when I saw the news that St. Louis lost two of our brightest lights in these horrific storms as well as four of their colleagues. Amazon’s profits should never come at the cost of our community’s lives, health, and safety. This cannot become the cost of doing business in America, and I am proud, on behalf of the people of St. Louis, to be initiating this investigation into Amazon with my colleagues Senator Warren and Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez to demand full accountability. St. Louis deserves nothing less.”

“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,” the members wrote.

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 

Warren, Bush, and Ocasio-Cortez welcome the investigation of the collapse that the Occupational Health and Safety Administration opened after the fatalities, and are also demanding answers into how Amazon’s policies and actions may have contributed to the death of these six workers. They asked Amazon to answer a detailed set of questions and provide records about communication and health and safety practices at their Edwardsville warehouse, and about whether Amazon was providing support for injured and deceased workers, by no later than January 3, 2022.