Democrats press Amazon on ‘failure to improve safety’ of tornado-struck warehouse 

The Amazon logo is displayed on a screen at the Nasdaq MarketSite, July 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Three Democrats on Thursday asked Amazon to detail how it plans to keep workers safe as one of its warehouses in Illinois that was struck by a tornado and collapsed last year is being rebuilt.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), in a letter shared exclusively with The Hill, pressed Amazon CEO Andy Jassy to explain the “rationale” for Amazon’s “reported failure to improve structural safety” at the facility despite six workers dying at the site during last year’s tornado and subsequent collapse.

The Edwardsville, Ill., warehouse is being built back to its “pre-loss conditions,” without including a storm shelter, local NBC-affiliate KSDK reported this summer citing a permit. The Democrats told Jassy that in doing so he is “once again putting your profits over workers’ safety.”

“As climate change makes severe weather events increasingly prevalent with extreme heat, tropical storms and hurricanes, and fire all posing a significant and mounting threat to workers’ safety, it is more crucial than ever that companies take steps to properly protect their workers against the dangers they may face in the workplace – and Amazon seems historically to not have done so,” they added.

Amazon does not own the building and the responsibility for reconstructing is on the landlord, according to the company. 

In response to the letter, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said, “over the last year, we’ve worked with our team, the community, and everyone affected by the tragic storms to support them and get stronger together.”

“As part of that effort, we’ve strengthened our emergency response plans and tailored them to meet the specific needs of individual sites, increased the frequency of emergency drills for employees and partners, and reevaluated the severe weather assembly area locations in many of our facilities to ensure they meet not only OSHA requirements but also FEMA guidance, which is the most stringent and comprehensive,” Nantel added in the statement. 

The letter is the latest effort from the three Democrats to push Amazon to improve safety at the Illinois facility, as well as other warehouses owned by the e-commerce giant nationwide. They have sent previous letters pushing Amazon to detail its plans to keep workers safe following the fatal collapse. 

In April the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) said an investigation into the collapse at the Edwardsville facility found Amazon’s severe weather emergency procedures met minimal federal safety guidelines for storm sheltering. The agency made no requirements for Amazon based on the investigation, but recommended areas of improvement. 

The Democrats said the lack of legally required mandates to install storm shelters in facilities “should not absolve Amazon of its responsibility to its workers.”

“Workers have a right to safety at work, and employers have a duty to ensure, to the best of their ability, that their workplace is safe from harm and built to withstand reasonably expectable safety risks,” they wrote.

This story was updated on Dec. 16 at 3:35 p.m.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Andy Jassy Cori Bush Elizabeth Warren

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