Investigations into Amazon’s safety procedures surrounding the tornado that caused the deaths of six workers in a warehouse in Illinois last year have demonstrated that the company’s safety rules are “wholly inadequate,” Democratic lawmakers say.
On Wednesday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) and Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Cori Bush (D-Missouri) sent a letter to Amazon’s chairman Jeff Bezos and CEO Andy Jassy criticizing the company for doing the “bare minimum” to protect its workers from danger.
The letter comes after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) found in an investigation, released late last month, that the company’s safety protocols met minimum legal requirements but were still lacking in several key areas that could have helped the employees be more prepared in the event of a natural disaster.
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“Although Amazon told us in its January 3, 2022 response that ‘safety is our top priority,’ the OSHA findings revealed glaring gaps in Amazon’s safety procedures, including flawed safety training, inadequate emergency procedures, and the inability of Amazon managers to follow the procedures that were in place,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter.
The lawmakers further went on to say that the company needs to update its safety protocols to better protect its nearly 1 million warehouse workers across the country. “These findings reveal a wholly inadequate safety culture at Amazon, which potentially contributed to the death of six workers and, if not addressed, will continue to put thousands more workers across the country at risk.”
Wednesday’s letter follows up on a note that Amazon sent in January in response to the lawmakers’ first letter to the company, shortly after six workers were killed when a tornado caused an Amazon warehouse to collapse in Edwardsville, Illinois. Workers said that the company’s policy disallowing workers from having their phones at work and the company’s lack of comprehensive disaster safety training may have contributed to the deaths.
In the company’s response to the lawmakers, Amazon Vice President of Public Policy Brian Huseman provided some details about the warehouse and boasted that the company spent $300 million on safety matters in 2021. Huseman also said that the company was conducting an internal investigation into the incident.
But while Amazon has promised to become “Earth’s Safest Place to Work,” reports have found that its warehouses are actually uniquely dangerous places to work in. Last month, a report by the Strategic Organizing Center found that the company’s injury rate increased between 2020 and 2021 and that nearly half of the workplace injuries in the entire U.S. warehouse sector last year happened at Amazon facilities. Amazon employs only about a third of warehouse workers in the country.
According to the lawmakers’ latest letter, Amazon’s response appeared to have stretched the truth on how managers responded to the tornado. While Amazon claimed that managers “immediately implemented the facility’s emergency action plan for a tornado” when the warning was received, the lawmakers note that OSHA’s findings contradict that account of events.
OSHA found that managers couldn’t implement the plan because the megaphone meant to be used for an emergency was “locked in a cage and not accessible.” Managers instead had to communicate verbally with employees, leading to a “chaotic emergency situation.”
“The OSHA inspection and your response to our letter indicate that Amazon will do only the bare minimum – and sometimes less than that – to keep its workers safe,” Warren, Ocasio-Cortez and Bush wrote. They urge the company to comply with a House Committee on Oversight and Reform request for documents in its investigation into the company’s safety practices.