Friday, September 30

Amazon accused of “obstructing” House probe into deadly warehouse collapse

Congressional Democrats are accusing Amazon of “obstructing” their investigation into the retailer’s labor practices during severe weather events.

Members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform have sent a letter to Amazon CEO Andy Jassy, saying the company has failed to produce materials requested more than two months ago.

The committee, which launched the investigation in late March, gave the Seattle-based e-commerce company a list of materials to hand over by mid-April.

But the company “still has not produced any of the key categories of documents identified by Committee staff, let alone the full set of materials the Committee requested in March,” said the letter signed by committee chairwoman Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a Democrat from New York. The letter was also signed by progressives Reps. Cori Bush, of Missouri, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York.

“Unfortunately, Amazon has failed to meaningfully comply with the Committee’s requests, obstructing the Committee’s investigation,” they wrote in the letter made public Thursday, adding that the company has only produced “an incomplete set of policies and procedures.”

Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokesperson, said the company was “surprised” to receive the letter. She said Amazon began providing materials to the committee two weeks after receiving the initial request and has produced more than 1,500 pages of information.

“As we have done from the start, we will continue to work with Committee staff on further document production — which includes the most recent materials we shared on June 1,” Nantel said.

The company’s labor policies during extreme weather events has been under increased scrutiny since the December 10 collapse of a company warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, where six people died and another was critically injured in a tornado strike.

Six employees killed by collapse

The family of one of the victims, 26-year-old Austin McEwen, filed a lawsuit against the retail behemoth in January. McEwen drove for Amazon as an independent contractor. 

The action on behalf of McEwen claims that Amazon failed to warn employees of dangerous weather or provide safe shelter before a tornado slammed the Edwardsville facility, killing McEwen and five others.

“Amazon knew a tornado was coming, but made the decision to have our son and others work during a peak delivery season for Amazon instead of evacuating the area,” Alice McEwen, Austin’s mother, told CBS News Chicago in January.

alic-and-austin-mcewen.jpg
Austin McEwen with his mother, Alice McEwen. The 26-year-old was one of six Amazon workers who died on December 10 when a tornado slammed the company’s Edwardsville, Illinois, facility.

Courtesy of Clifford Law Offices/Theintelligencer.com


Amazon has said that in the minutes before the tornado hit, leaders used bullhorns to notify workers on the floor and radios to notify drivers heading toward the facility of the pending twister, CBS News Chicago reported in January. The company at the time also had denied claims workers at the warehouse were not allowed to have cell phones on the job.

Last month, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration wrapped up its own probe into the incident, concluding that Amazon met minimal federal safety requirements for storm sheltering. But regulators also found safety risks and called on the company to improve its procedures.

The House letter said the company has not produced any internal communications related to the Edwardsville tornado to the committee, which is doing its own investigation into the incident.

The committee is also seeking documents showing how Amazon managed its workforce during other natural disasters, including wildfires in California in 2018.



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