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Lawmakers demand answers from Amazon after warehouse collapse

Six killed in Edwardsville, two from St. Louis
Credit: United For Respect / Athena Coalition
U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., offers condolences to the families of deceased Amazon workers during a candlelight vigil Friday, Dec. 17, 2021, in Edwardsville, Ill.

ST. LOUIS — Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) 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 in a tornado earlier this month.

“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," said U.S. Congresswoman, MO-01, Cori Bush.

Those deaths include two from St. Louis, after an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois collapsed during a Dec. 10 tornado. The letter, signed by 23 lawmakers, stated that the deaths in Edwardsville were part of a larger pattern: “Amazon puts worker safety at risk in everyday situations and emergencies alike.” 

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has also launched an investigation into Amazon’s Edwardsville warehouse facility, which will be completed in the next six months. 

As the tornado hit the warehouse, six employees were killed: Austin J. McEwen, 26, of Edwardsville, Illinois; Kevin D. Dickey, 62, of Carlyle, Illinois; Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, of Alton, Illinois; Larry E. Virden, 46, of Collinsville, Illinois; Deandre S. Morrow, 28, of St. Louis, and Etheria S. Hebb, 24, also from St. Louis. 

The National Weather Service issued warnings for potential tornados in the area 36 hours before the collapse and tracked the storm cells as they moved towards the area. 

Though tornado warnings were broadcast on every form of local media and sirens wailed while the tornado made its way towards Edwardsville, the Amazon workers were not allowed to leave the warehouse, where they were working overtime hours in the pre-Christmas rush. Instead, they were directed to shelter in place near the warehouse restrooms. 

The site received tornado warnings between 8:06 p.m. and 8:16 p.m. before the tornado struck the building at 8:27 p.m., the company said in a statement. 

The building directly impacted by the storm was a delivery station that had opened in July 2020, according to Amazon, and was approximately 1.1 million square feet with approximately 190 employees across multiple shifts. Amazon operates three facilities out of Edwardsville: the delivery station hit by the tornado, a fulfillment center, and a sorting station. 

Some Amazon drivers, as Bloomberg News reported, were told explicitly by company representatives not to seek shelter: instead, they were told they had to finish their delivery routes. 

The tornado has led to public outcry about Amazon’s safety practices, as workers and activists assert this could have been avoided had Amazon allowed cell phone use in their warehouses or had the company been less aggressively crushing towards union organizing attempts. Amazon has loosened its rules around cell phones on the warehouse floor during the COVID-19 pandemic, and after the Edwardsville collapse stated cell phones will continue to be allowed until further notice.

Read more from The St. Louis American.

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