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Union Attacks Amazon’s Tornado Response; OSHA Investigating

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) has taken Amazon to task over its behavior during last week’s tornado that decimated the company’s warehouse in Edwardsville, Ill.

“Time and time again Amazon puts its bottom line above the lives of its employees,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, said. “Requiring workers to work through such a major tornado warning event as this was inexcusable. At least two workers will never be going home to their families, and countless others continue to be trapped beneath the rubble of the Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Ill.”

Applebaum said the incident was another “outrageous example of the company putting profits over the health and safety of their workers and we cannot stand for this.”

“Amazon cannot continue to be let off the hook for putting hard working people’s lives at risk,” he added. “Our union will not back down until Amazon is held accountable for these and so many more dangerous labor practices.”

Federal and state officials said Monday that they will investigate the collapse of the Amazon delivery depot, according to The New York Times.

Putting the number of people killed in the Amazon warehouse Friday at six, Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois said at a news conference that a state investigation into whether the building was constructed according to building codes was ongoing.

At the news conference, Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said the company believed the building was constructed properly, despite the catastrophic damage, the NY Times reported.

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“Obviously we want to go back and look at every aspect of this,” she said.

An Amazon spokesperson told Sourcing Journal that the site received tornado warnings through various alerts and “our team worked quickly to ensure as many employees and partners could get to the designated shelter in place. We thank them for everything they were able to do.”

The building directly impacted by the storm is a delivery station opened in July 2020. The facility is approximately 1.1 million square feet and employs approximately 190 employees across multiple shifts.

The federal investigation will be undertaken by the local office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which has had compliance officers on the ground since Saturday, Scott Allen, a regional spokesman for the agency, told the NY Times. He said the agency has six months “to complete its investigation, issue citations and propose monetary penalties if violations of workplace safety and or health regulations are found.”

John Felton, an Amazon logistics executive, said at the news conference with the Illinois governor that “everything that we have seen, it was all procedures were followed correctly.” He said the 46 people in the delivery depot at the time that the tornado hit acted “heroically,” using phones, bullhorns and other tools to move as many people to safety as possible.

Thirty-nine people sheltered in a space on the north side of the building that was “nearly undamaged,” Felton said, and seven people congregated on the south side of the facility, which fell directly in the tornado’s path.

Amazon told Sourcing Journal that in addition to supporting its team, the company is working hard to support the Edwardsville community, including donating $1 million to the Edwardsville Community Foundation and working with local and state officials to understand what’s needed most in their recovery efforts. In addition, it is providing employees and partners with relief supplies and services with transportation, food and clean water, and other immediate-needs support.

Amazon is also reaching out to the victims’ families to see how the company can best support them, and assisting emergency responders as needs are identified, including providing accommodations and hot meals.

Representing 100,000 members throughout the United States, the RWDSU is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW).

Amazon isn’t the only company under the microscope for labor safety practices.

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) criticized Dollar General, the nation’s largest discount retailer, as being “recognized for its long history of violations and repeated failures to protect its workers from on-the-job hazards.”

DOL said since 2016, its department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has proposed more than $3.3 million in penalties in 54 inspections at Dollar General locations nationwide. Typical violations included blocked electrical panels, obstructed exits, and forklift, housekeeping and sanitation violations. Each of these violations represent hazardous and unsafe conditions, placing workers at risk of injury, DOL said.

In Alabama, where the company opened its first location there in 1965, a June 2021 federal inspection at Dollar General Store 7196 in Mobile found the store’s operator, Dolgencorp LLC, again failed to keep the main storeroom orderly to allow safe exit during an emergency, exposed workers to slip and trip hazards and being struck by falling boxes and prevented access to electrical panels, DOL noted. OSHA identified three repeat violations in the Mobile inspection and proposed $321,827 in penalties.

“Dollar General has a long history of disregarding safety measures to prevent serious injury or death in the event of a fire or other emergency,” said assistant secretary for Occupational Safety and Health Doug Parker. “This company’s troubled history of workplace safety violations must come to an end and OSHA will make every effort to hold them accountable for their failures.”

A DOL spokesperson said told Sourcing Journal there was not a specific reason for Monday’s announcement.

Based in Goodlettsville, Tenn., Dolgencorp LLC is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dollar General Corp. and operates about 17,000 stores and 17 distribution centers around the country, employing more than 150,000 workers. In September, the company announced plans to open its first Idaho store and expand its presence to 47 states.

OSHA said Dollar General has 15 business days from receipt of its citations and penalties to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s workers by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance.