Amazon drivers seek safety at warehouse as tornado hits. Yet, they consequently find death & destruction.
(Reported by CNBC on December 20, 2021) Gary Quigley is ending his delivery route and notices the winds picking up. He listens to a local radio station to watch the weather forecast due to the National Weather Service calling for a severe tornadoes in his area.
7:30 pm : Quigley calls his dispatcher, Kevin Dickey, who’s in charge of overseeing the drivers at his contracted delivery company. Both men agree that the weather is getting worse. So Dickey tells Quigley to head back to the warehouse in Edwardsville.
After pulling into the Amazon warehouse to clock out, Quigley stays and chats with Dickey.
“He asks me if it is getting bad out there,” Quigley recalls. “Then he tells me to go ahead and get home safe and that he’ll see me tomorrow.” Consequently, this will be the last time Quigley speaks to Dickey.
Dickey is 1 of 6 workers who died on December 10 as a result of the Edwardsville warehouse being hit by a tornado.
8:28 pm : The EF-3 tornado hit the ground with wind speeds of 150 mph. Amazon’s 1.1 million square-foot facility’s roof collapses, while the 40 foot tall and 11 inch thick concrete walls of the warehouse fall inward.
After this warehouse’s collapse, there’s been more scrutiny of Amazon’s workplace safety policies.
Most importantly, it also raises questions about if regulations and building codes need to be updated.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration says it began an investigation into the Amazon warehouse collapse.
Local officials also investigate the tragedy. Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker says in a news conference that he wanted “to make sure all of the code was followed in the building and to find out exactly what occurred.”
23 lawmakers write letters to AMZ’s CEO Andy Jassy & founder Jeff Bezos.
Lawmakers want to gather more information into what happened at the Edwardsville warehouse.
Furthermore, if Amazon’s “anti-worker policies that prioritize profits over worker safety” contributed to the incident.
Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, says the company is reviewing the letter. Nantel says during a news conference that the building was constructed consistent with code.
“We want to go back and look at every aspect of this,” Nantel continued. “There’s always going to be tremendous learnings from any type of catastrophic event like this. All in all, we want to make sure our policies, our practices are consistent with any learnings that we have from this event and with all best practices.”
Gary Quigley is driving home from the warehouse parking lot, as he waves at Craig Yost who’s on his way back to the facility. Shortly after pulling in, Yost & the other delivery drivers are told to take cover inside the warehouse.
8:06 pm : the National Weather Service sends an emergency alert for a tornado warning in the area, urging residents to take shelter.
Receiving this alert, Yost & several other delivery drivers immediately rush into the closest men’s bathroom along with a coworker, Larry Virden. Workers discuss how happy they are when they see dogs on delivery routes, says Ashley Deckard, a delivery driver who spoke to Yost following the collapse.
Lights begin to flicker. “Then the hit came,” Deckard said, smashing through the warehouse destroying the south side. Larry Virden, 46, Deandre Morrow, 28, Clayton Cope, 29, Austin McEwen, 26, and Dickey, the dispatcher, are all killed while taking shelter in the bathroom as a result.
Yost is trapped under pieces of concrete but even so, is still conscious & manages to flag down a delivery driver to find help.
Quigley says, “This tells me a lot about Craig, considering Craig’s the one trapped. He’s telling this guy to get composure and get some help.” After laying under the concrete rubble for hours, Yost is finally freed by emergency responders and airlifted to Saint Louis University Hospital. As a result of the warehouse collapsing, he suffers serious injuries including a fractured pelvis, a fractured hip, and a concussion. Yost undergoes surgery and is then released from the hospital.
Concurrently, at another part of the warehouse, two women are trapped under debris.
They call 911 to say a woman near them is unresponsive and looks dead.
“We’re right next to her,” one woman says on the call, “We can’t get to her. Her body is bent in half.” Etheria Hebb, 34, dies in the collapse as well.
During the same call to 911, one of the women says, “As soon as we pull in, they say to park and go straight to the bathrooms. So, we go into the girls’ bathroom,” the woman says. “We all get together, and then the building just falls.”
An Amazon spokesperson says that employees were directed to the shelters in a designated assembly area. This shelter area is located near the front of the building by a bathroom accordingly.
Tornado warnings are received at the Amazon warehouse between 8:06-8:16 pm. By 8:27 pm, the tornado strikes the warehouse, the spokesperson says. Adding that, this tornado likely had formed in the facility’s parking lot, moved through the site and then disappeared.
John Felton, Amazon’s senior VP of global delivery services, said at a news conference that there’s no indication that any safety procedures were incorrectly followed. “There were megaphones, alerts corresponding with drivers that were coming back,” Felton said. “With this in mind, there was tremendous effort that specifically happened that night to keep everybody safe.”
All of the victims were contracted delivery employees for Amazon. This is besides for Cope, who was a mechanic at the warehouse.
AMZ’s in-house delivery operations are a critical piece of the logistics and fulfillment machine. It allows Amazon to shuttle packages to customers’ doorsteps at faster speeds. Last year, Amazon had more than 82,000 drivers and 1,000 delivery firms in its delivery service partner program in the US.
While the workers wear Amazon uniforms and drive Amazon-branded vans, they’re technically employees of third-party delivery firms.
This arrangement, which has grown exponentially within Amazon, has faced criticism for the lack of safety protocols in the past. Workers that were still out on the day of the tornado were told to pull their vehicle over or to just drive home, says a dispatcher for Boxify Logistics at the Edwardsville warehouse.
Amazon’s workplace safety policy is being questioned more throughout the COVID pandemic.
Workers discuss Amazon’s inadequate safety protocols for severe weather events in Reddit groups.
2 employees say they feel like Amazon needs to adopt stronger safety measures to protect workers in case of severe weather. All in all, the workers say there are inadequate shelter areas and a lack of tornado drills.
Jameisha Ross, for instance, a warehouse worker in another Edwardsville facility, says that her warehouse has a severe weather assembly area designated by a sign hanging from the ceiling that’s “surrounded by very heavy items.”
“With this in mind, many employees are just now realizing where it is, and that they’re surrounded by some of the largest & heaviest items our building carries,” Ross said.
“Nothing like 100 treadmills or fridges coming down on you while sheltering in place.”
Across the highway from the destroyed warehouse stands STL4. One employee says they have “never once” had a severe weather drill. Nor have they received information on where to go in case of an emergency.
Additionally, another employee said their partner was working the night of the tornado. And that it had been “extremely chaotic” in the warehouse when the tornado hit because “nobody knew exactly where to go.” Employees inside STL4 were told to shelter in a crowded bathroom as well, the worker said.
An Amazon spokesperson didn’t respond to questions about why some of the warehouse’s assembly areas had heavy items surrounding them. But, this spokesperson did say that new employees undergo emergency response training. And, that training is reinforced throughout the year. As a matter of fact, each facility has its own emergency action plan that identities the exit routes and shelter areas, they said.
OSHA guidelines state that storm cellars, basements, or small interior rooms provide for the best protection from a tornado.
But the federal government does not require specifically built storm shelters inside of warehouses.
OSHA advises all employers to make sure all workers know what to do in case of an emergency. They must routinely practice shelter-in-place plans. All in all, drivers should know what to do if they are outdoors when a tornado is threatening.
Ross said that this incident has underscored her existing concerns about how Amazon treats warehouse employees. To add, that she’s planning to quit her job at the company.
“They do not care about us or our families,” Ross said.
Several Amazon facilities and delivery companies have held or plan to have vigils to honor and remember the victims.
Deckard says she’s grateful to Dickey for staying at the warehouse to make sure all of her coworkers are accounted for.
“He was probably calling the drivers that night, making sure they were safe before thinking about himself, because that’s how much he cared about others,” Deckard said.
Meanwhile, many employees at surrounding warehouses have returned to work. Amazon calls for mandatory overtime at at least one facility.
Gary Quigley says, “I’m scheduled to go to work, and it’s just hard. I think to myself, if I had done something a little bit differently that day, I might have been in there as well.”
Last but not least, we want to remind you that workers at Amazon have the right to:
• Require Amazon to fix unsafe conditions or violations of O.S.H.A. standards without fear of retaliation and / or punishment.
• Refuse to work in unsafe or dangerous conditions without fear of retaliation and / or punishment.
• Work without fear of unsafe machinery, equipment, toxic chemicals and / or other fumes.
• Get work safety equipment such as gloves, goggles, as well as masks.
• Ask O.S.H.A. for an inspection or investigation under those circumstances of dangerous conditions in the workplace. Also, to see reports of threats or danger that an O.S.H.A. investigator finds.
Call our law firm if you have any questions about our process: 212-256-1109. And as was previously stated, we have 3 ways in which you can work with us: