On the 10th of December, Amazon’s Edwardsville, Illinois warehouse was hit by a tornado and at least six workers were tragically killed.
In the aftermath of the incident, many Amazon warehouse workers are questioning a phone ban that meant those impacted by this tragedy couldn’t contact or be reached by their loved ones.
The e-commerce giant had relaxed its phone rules as part of a response to the pandemic, but at the time of this incident, the company had begun reintroducing a no-phone policy across the US. As part of this policy change, Amazon initially removed the protocol that enabled workers to get in touch with people in cases of emergency
With the phone ban continuing to be rolled out, Bloomberg spoke to employees about how they felt. One employee in a neighboring warehouse from Edwardsville said: “After these deaths, there is no way in hell I am relying on Amazon to keep me safe.”
Additionally, Stuart Appelbaum, the president of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, said: “Time and time again Amazon puts its bottom line above the lives of its employees. Requiring workers to work through such a major tornado warning event as this was inexcusable.”
“This is 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. Our union will not back down until Amazon is held accountable for these and so many more dangerous labor practices.”
These comments are not only damning but reflective of the greater issues that the technology and commerce company is facing.
Earth’s best employer
Amazon has strived to become ‘Earth’s best employer‘ but during the pandemic, the company’s shortcomings have been highly publicized.
Notably, the company has had workers on strict rotas which meant they had to urinate in bottles to keep up with their schedules. On top of that, Amazon drivers are facing AI surveillance under threat of losing their jobs, HR systems have been broken for extended periods of time, and underpaid staff when they needed it most, and claims of a discriminatory culture.
These kinds of issues culminated in Black Friday strikes in which MakeAmazonPay noted: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, Amazon became a trillion-dollar corporation, with Bezos becoming the first person in history to amass $200 billion in personal wealth.
“Meanwhile, Amazon warehouse workers risked their lives as essential workers, and only briefly received an increase in pay.”
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel responded to the threat of strikes by saying: “These groups represent a variety of interests, and while we are not perfect in any area – if you objectively look at what Amazon is doing in each one of these areas you’ll see that we do take our role and our impact very seriously.”
Additionally, in an effort to stop the formation of unions, founder Jeff Bezos said: “It’s clear to me that we need a better vision for how we create value for employees — a vision for their success.”
What is Amazon doing?
In an effort to keep employees and attract new ones, Amazon has implemented several new policies. This includes increases in wages, education benefits, and more flexible working arrangements.
However, concerns remain in the HR department. Amazon has admitted to “inadequate service levels, deficient processes” and systems that are “prone to delay and error”. Despite a vow by Bethany Reyes, who was recently put in charge of fixing the leave system, that training had been improved.
Evidently, there are many areas for Amazon to cover as they attempt to become a top employer. A clear place to start is to implement effective systems that manage, address, and report back on employee experiences.
Once this has been done, establishing a feedback loop that shows changes are being made and opinions are being heard would be an effective way to improve the outlook of employees.
Perhaps, what the aftermath of the awful incident in Ilinois draws attention to most, is the need for the company to listen to employees and begin focusing on them in an equal measure to consumers.
On the back of these kinds of efforts, employees may begin to trust the company once more.
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