Democratic legislators send scathing letter to Amazon inquiring about employee deaths

“Amazon has proven time and time again that it views workers as disposable means to achieving greater profits.”

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Concerned over the tragic deaths of six Amazon employees during a recent tornado, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representatives Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) sent a letter Monday to Amazon’s Executive Chairman, Jeff Bezos, and its President and CEO, Andy Jassy, demanding to know whether corporate negligence had been directly responsible for causing those deaths.

On December 10, 2021, Amazon executives ignored a 36-hour advance tornado warning, which resulted in the deaths of six employees at an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois. The employees who lost their lives were Austin J. McEwen, DeAndre S. Morrow, Clayton Lynn Cope, Etheria S. Hebb, Larry E. Virden, and Kevin D. Dickey.

In the letter addressed to Bezos and Jassy, the legislators wrote, “We are writing to express our grave concern regarding Amazon’s anti-worker policies that prioritize profits over worker safety, and appear to have contributed to the tragic deaths of six workers at your Edwardsville, Illinois, warehouse on December 10, 2021. These workers,
including two constituents of Rep. Bush, were killed when an Amazon warehouse collapsed and trapped them inside during the December 10th tornadoes that stretched across six states. 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. 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 legislators questioned whether the facility met appropriate building standards and why the company failed to implement tornado drills to ensure the safety of its employees. They also inquired why employees were instructed not to leave the facility to seek safer shelter in advance of the tornado.

“Amazon has proven time and time again that it views workers as disposable means to achieving greater profits. Amazon earned $21 billion in 2020 alone, and its workers have made founder Jeff Bezos the wealthiest person in the world—with a staggering net worth of $184 billion,” the lawmakers added. “In sharp contrast, many of Amazon’s employees are forced to subsidize their low wages with government assistance programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid. Mr. Bezos can afford a trip to space, but his employees can’t afford a trip to the grocery store or the doctor.”

The lawmakers also noted, “For example, Amazon warehouses remained open during Hurricane Ida in September 2021, even as the storm caused widespread flooding that led to 14 deaths in New York. Amazon drivers reported delivering packages through floodwaters during Hurricane Irma in 2017. During the deadliest wildfires in California history in 2018, an Amazon warehouse ignored city-wide air quality warnings for two days before it sent its workers home. During this summer’s extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest, Amazon workers were expected to report for duty during a heat wave deemed a mass casualty event. Some workers complained of having to work in areas of Amazon warehouses that lacked fans and reached temperatures of 90 degrees. New York Attorney General Letitia James also filed a lawsuit against Amazon earlier this year for its failure to provide adequate health and safety measures for employees during the pandemic, and for retaliating against multiple whistleblowers. During the pandemic, Amazon’s broken HR systems have mishandled paid and unpaid leave, punishing workers as they are also dealing with medical problems and other emergencies.”

The letter concluded with a list of demands, including the number of Amazon workers who have died on site in the past 10 years, accompanied by explanations of how each worker died, records of communications between managers and workers, and copies of all company emails sent in the course of dealing with the disaster on December 10, 11, and 12. The letter was also signed by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D- Ohio), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Bernie 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,” Sen. Warren wrote in a press release.

“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 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.”

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