• Monica Cruz

Six workers killed in Amazon warehouse collapse

Despite a tornado warning, the Edwardsville, Illinois warehouse continued operations

The warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois after a category EF3 tornado hit it on December 10. Photo: Twitter

At least six people have been killed and countless others injured during a partial collapse of its Edwardsville, Illinois warehouse on the night of December 10. A category EF3 tornado hit the warehouse around 8:35 pm. The “search and rescue” mission through the remaining rubble has changed to a “search and recover” mission, suggesting that officials believe there are no survivors.

At least 100 workers were in the warehouse at the time of the collapse and an unknown number are still missing. Management does not have an exact number of how many workers were in the warehouse at the time the tornado hit because a shift change was underway.

On Sunday, authorities identified the victims: Austin J. McEwen, 26, of Edwardsville; Deandre S. Morrow, 28, of St. Louis; Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, of Alton, Illinois; Etheria S. Hebb, 34, of St. Louis; Larry E. Virden, 46, Collinsville, Illinois; and Kevin D. Dickey, 62, of Carlyle, Illinois.

Corporate greed kills

At 5 pm that day, the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for counties in Missouri and Illinois, which included Edwardsville. At 8 pm, it updated the alert to a tornado warning.

Despite this, the warehouse continued its operations at full-speed and asked employees to wait out the storm inside. One of the victims, Larry Virden, texted his girlfriend, “Amazon won’t let us leave.”

The Edwardsville facility, also known as DL14, opened in July 2020, as part of a massive expansion of Amazon warehouses during its pandemic profit boom. As its profits have multiplied, its worker safety standards have fallen below the industry average.

Back in May, the Strategic Organizing Center released a report detailing how Amazon workers face an injury rate double that of the warehousing industry. It also found that they are injured more severely, “nearly 80 percent higher than the serious injury rate for all other employers in the warehousing industry in 2020.”

Amazon has been known to keep its employees working in dangerous conditions, like in deadly heat waves without proper air conditioning or water.

The Strategic Organizing Center report points to the culprit, “The company’s obsession with speed has come at a huge cost for Amazon’s workforce.”

Hours after the tragedy and deaths were reported, former CEO Jeff Bezos posted himself celebrating his space company’s celebrity rocket launch. Later, he tweeted that he was “heartbroken” over the news. Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO Dave Clark tweeted out his “thoughts and prayers.”

Workers demand accountability

Workers and organizers with the Illinois-based Worker Outreach Program, an initiative by Warehouse Workers for Justice, have called on the state’s legislature to convene a hearing to “ensure all Amazon facilities are places of safety for workers.”

Their statement on the tragedy said, “While natural disasters are not controllable, Amazon’s preparedness and safety protocols are. This disaster calls into question Amazon’s record on worker safety and building standards.”

It continued, “A tornado might be a rare and extreme event, but Amazon’s disregard for worker safety is a chronic pattern that puts workers in danger every day.”

The president of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which the workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama are currently in the process of attempting to organize with, released a statement condemning the trillion-dollar company.

Stuart Applebaum wrote, “Time and time again Amazon puts its bottom line above the lives of its employees … Our union will not back down until Amazon is held accountable for these and so many more dangerous labor practices.”

This was originally published on Peoples Dispatch.