THE RWDSU (Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union) has issued a devastating ‘Statement on the Amazon Warehouse Collapse,’ after at least six workers were killed inside in last Friday’s tornado hit in Illinois, describing the company’s requirement that employees work through the tornado as ‘inexcusable’.
Forty-five people made it out of the building, with one person airlifted to a regional hospital for treatment, Edwardsville Fire Chief James Whiteford said.
Several employees reported that they had been directed to shelter in bathrooms by Amazon managers after receiving emergency alerts on mobile phones from local authorities.
The first warning was issued about 40 minutes before the tornado hit, according to firefighters and the Illinois governor.
Some workers said they had kept their phones in violation of an Amazon policy that prevents them from having cellphones at work.
‘I was at the end of my route. I was just getting in the building and they started screaming, “Shelter in place”!’ said David Kosiak, 26, who has worked at the facility for three months.
‘We were in the bathrooms. That’s where they sent us.’
‘It sounded like a train came through the building. The ceiling tiles came flying down. It was very loud. They made us shelter in place til we left – it was at least two and a half hours in there.’
The Amazon workers identified as dead by the local coroner were Deandre S. Morrow, 28, of St. Louis, Missouri; Kevin D. Dickey, 62, of Carlyle, Illinois; Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, of Alton, Illinois; Etheria S. Hebb, 24, of St. Louis, Missouri; and Larry E. Virden, 46, of Collinsville, Illinois.
And Amazon cargo driver Austin J. McEwen, 26, died trying to shelter from a powerful tornado in the bathroom at the warehouse, according to a co-worker.
Stuart Appelbaum, President of the RWDSU, 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.
‘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, Illinois.
‘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 labour practices,’ Appelbaum said.
The RWDSU represents 100,000 members throughout the United States and is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW).
Meanwhile, last Tuesday, December 7th, City of West Covina residents and activists held a picket line and rally in front of the proposed location of an Amazon Logistics facility.
Residents have also recently filed a CEQA lawsuit in an attempt to halt the recently approved project, which alleges that the City’s granting of a Project Approvals violates CEQA and other applicable zoning/planning laws.
The proposed Amazon Logistics facility would be a 177,240 square foot distribution centre in the heart of West Covina, operating 24 hours a day.
The Development Agreement proposed states that the facility is estimated to create 914 daily vehicle trips.
It is well known that Amazon facilities impact traffic wherever they are located.
Recently, community residents in San Diego, California, successfully stopped an Amazon development in the region because of a proposed law that would require stronger protections for workers and communities impacted by the project.
West Covina residents say they don’t want Amazon’s typical high rates of injury, high rates of turnover, and low pay coming into their community.
They say that West Covina City Council could do more to support good, family-sustaining jobs, but Amazon’s proposed facility does not accomplish this goal.
During a press conference, several plaintiffs and residents spoke about the proposed Amazon facility.
‘I don’t care what any politician in this city says, a job is not just a job,’ said Percy Martinez, a West Covina resident and retiree of Teamsters Local 396.
He stressed: ‘Not all jobs are created equal, especially when those businesses impact our environment.
‘We need good jobs in our community that fully mitigate its impacts on the community – not Amazon jobs that fail to adequately reduce its environmental impacts. West Covina can do better.’
‘Many schools, day care centres, and parks are located less than a couple of miles from the proposed facility,’ said Andrea Vidaurre.
She added: ‘Many residents surrounding this site will bear the brunt of Amazon’s operations – including, but not limited to, noise, traffic, air quality, and other impacts.
‘Amazon needs to mitigate the impacts to the environment and community fully.’
‘I took offence when the mayor said “a job is a job”,’ said Ron Herrera, Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 396.
He declared: ‘If these politicians prioritise corporations over people, they should be voted out of office.
‘I say no to the current proposed Amazon in West Covina! West Covina can do better not only for future employees but also for the community.
‘Local 396 is pleased to join other plaintiffs and the community to fight for environmentally responsible development, which is important to us all.’
The proposed facility will not create sales tax revenue, and Amazon’s developer agreed to provide West Covina only $4 million in so-called ‘community benefits’ over the next 20 years.
In the San Diego, California situation in October, Amazon backed out of a last-mile distribution centre project because of a proposed law that would require it to pay workers more and offer them stronger protections.
The law, known as the Working Families Ordinance, would require that employers that operate on San Diego county-owned land pay the prevailing wage – which is based on union wages – and mandate 56 hours of annual sick leave for workers.
In a statement, Maria Boschetti, a spokesperson for Amazon confirmed that the company had backed out of the deal, but did not specify the reason why.
She said: ‘While we have decided not to pursue the site in El Cajon, we continue to assess opportunities to invest and grow across the region.
‘We appreciate the time and attention committed by the City of San Diego, as well as local community leaders and officials.’
But in a leaked letter to the community, Chesnut Properties, the developer of the Amazon warehouse in El Cajon, wrote that the Working Families Ordinance was the reason for Amazon’s withdrawal from the project.
The letter from Chesnut Properties said: ‘Just the threat (mention) of this ordinance has already cost over 400 great jobs for the Weld Property that I have been working on for over five years.’ (The Weld Property refers to the site of the Amazon warehouse).
The letter continued: ‘The proposed ordinance is, in my opinion, irresponsible in that the county leadership has put all business and ground lessees “on notice” that a huge change is coming that will impose new wage costs on all of us.’
- Frontline sanitation workers at Republic Services in Orange County, California, are on strike over Unfair Labour Practices.
Last Thursday morning, December 9th, at 3.00am local time, more than 400 sanitation workers employed by Republic Services facilities in Anaheim and Huntington Beach – all members of Teamsters Local 396 – went on strike in response to the company’s unfair labour practices committed during bargaining for a fair contract.
These include making unilateral changes without bargaining and threatening reprisals against employees who participate in union activity.
Teamsters Local 396’s contracts with Republic Services expired on September 30, 2021, and members voted to authorise a strike on November 23, 2021.
These frontline sanitation workers – overwhelmingly Black and Latino employees who worked tirelessly during the Covid-19 pandemic to keep their communities safe and clean – have made it clear from the start that their strong preference was to reach a fair agreement with Republic Services instead of going on strike.
However, instead of providing these workers with fair pay and a fair contract that addresses their concerns, including excessive working hours and constant harassment on the job, Republic Services has responded to the employees’ union activities with unfair labour practices, leaving them with no choice but to strike.
Teamsters Local 396 members proudly serve Orange County cities such as Santa Ana, Garden Grove, Anaheim, Huntington Beach, Seal Beach and major tourist attractions, including Disneyland.
The strike will disrupt waste hauling during the holiday season, impacting both residential communities and businesses.