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An Amazon dispatcher pressured a driver to keep delivering packages amid tornado alarms

'If you decide to return with your packages, it will be viewed as you refusing your route...'
The site of a roof collapse at an Amazon.com distribution centre a day after a series of tornadoes dealt a blow to several U.S. states, in Edwardsville, Illinois, U.S. December 11, 2021.  REUTERS/Drone Base
Dronebase Dronebase / reuters
Igor Bonifacic
Igor Bonifacic|@igorbonifacic|December 17, 2021 8:02 PM

An Amazon dispatcher in Illinois told a driver to continue delivering packages even after tornado sirens warned of incoming danger. That’s according to screenshots shared this week by Bloomberg that document an exchange that reportedly happened last Friday shortly before a tornado hit an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, leading to a structural collapse and six deaths. “Just keep driving,” the dispatcher said in a message sent at 7:08PM that evening. “We can’t just call people back for a warning unless Amazon tells us to do so.”

After being told to “keep delivering” a second time about half an hour later, the driver said she wanted to turn back for her safety. “If you look at the radar, the worst of the storm is going to be right on top of me in 30 minutes.” To this, she was told she would lose her job if she drove back.

“If you decide to return with your packages, it will be viewed as you refusing your route, which will ultimately end with you not having a job come tomorrow morning,” the dispatcher said. “I’m literally stuck in this damn van without a safe place to go with a tornado on the ground,” the driver messaged back before being told to shelter in place.

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In a statement to Bloomberg, Amazon said the dispatcher didn’t follow safety guidelines. The company also said it’s investigating the incident and that the driver is safe. Here’s the full text of the statement it shared with the outlet:

This was a developing situation across a broad geographic area, and unfortunately the delivery service partner’s dispatcher didn’t follow the standard safety practice. This dispatcher should have immediately directed the driver to seek shelter when the driver reported hearing tornado sirens. While this text exchange was going on, the local Amazon team was ensuring each delivery service partner had directed their drivers to shelter in place or seek shelter and advised them to stop delivering for the evening. We’re glad the driver is safe and we’re using the learnings from this incident to improve our policies and guidance for delivery service partners and drivers. Under no circumstance should the dispatcher have threatened the driver’s employment, and we’re investigating the full details of this incident and will take any necessary action.

Amazon’s policies have led to several incidents where workers were expected to clock in even during extreme weather. In September, as tropical depression Ida caused widespread flooding throughout New York City, the retailer kept its warehouses open. In 2017, drivers told Engadget’s Avery Menegus, then writing for Gizmodo, they delivered packages in the immediate aftermath of hurricane Irma. The company is also known for keeping its facilities open even in extreme heat. During the historic heatwave that hit the Pacific Northwest this past summer, employees had to work even as temperatures inside one of the company’s facilities neared 90 degrees.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration is investigating the collapse of the warehouse in Illinois. According to employees who spoke to Bloomberg, the facility didn’t conduct any drills before the tornado that would have prepared them for the emergency.

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An Amazon dispatcher pressured a driver to keep delivering packages amid tornado alarms