One of the many tornadoes that slammed six states over the weekend formed in the parking lot of an Amazon distribution center in Edwardsville, Illinois, on Friday night, ripping off the roof of the depot, collapsing two 40-foot-high concrete walls, and killing six people. About 45 people made it out alive, reports say.
However, as the New York Times reports, logistical issues complicated rescue and recovery efforts there.
"The more than 250,000 drivers like Mr. Harris who fuel Amazon’s delivery network do not work directly for the company but instead are employed by over 3,000 contractor companies. On Saturday, Mike Fillback, the police chief in Edwardsville, said the authorities had 'challenges' in knowing 'how many people we actually had at that facility at the time because it’s not a set staff.'
"Only seven people at Amazon’s site were full-time employees, said a Madison County commissioner who declined to give his name. He said most were delivery drivers in their 20s who work as contractors."
The Times also notes that "the tornado coincided with a peak in the company’s work force. Americans’ reliance on Amazon soon turned the deaths at the delivery depot into a focus of the public as the tornadoes’ toll became clear over the weekend."
Two other related stories emerged over the weekend.
"An Amazon.com Inc. warehouse collapse on Friday night that killed at least six people has amplified concerns among its blue collar workforce about the return of the internet retailer’s mobile phone ban in work areas … Amazon had for years prohibited workers from carrying their phones on warehouse floors, requiring them to leave them in vehicles or employee lockers before passing through security checks that include metal detectors. The company backed off during the pandemic, but has been gradually reintroducing it at facilities around the country.
"Five Amazon employees, including two who work across the street from the building that collapsed, said they want access to information such as updates on potentially deadly weather events through their smartphones -- without interference from Amazon."
And from the New York Post:
"Jeff Bezos on Saturday night said he was 'heartbroken' over the deaths of at least six Amazon employees in an Illinois warehouse hit by a tornado Friday.
"The Amazon founder was blasted on social media earlier Saturday for failing to mention the deadly incident in Edwardsville while cheering on his latest group of space tourists in an Instagram post.
"'The news from Edwardsville is tragic,' he finally said in a statement on Twitter at around 9 p.m. 'We’re heartbroken over the loss of our teammates there, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones.'
"'All of Edwardsville should know that the Amazon team is committed to supporting them and will be by their side through this crisis,' the post continued. 'We extend our fullest gratitude to all the incredible first responders who have worked so tirelessly at the site'."
- KC's View:
To be fair, there isn't much that Jeff Bezos could have done on Saturday to help affected employees and contractors. And, Bezos isn't the company's CEO anymore.
But, like it or not, Bezos remains the company's face and voice, as inextricably linked to Amazon's image and performance as Steve Jobs was to Apple's. I think if I had been his public relations person, I would have suggested that on Saturday morning it might've made sense not to be gushing online about his latest spaceship trip. Just as a matter of perception and perspective.
Bezos always has made a big deal out of Amazon's being a customer-centric company. At this point, a huge percentage of the country's population uses Amazon, and I think that maybe he runs the risk of appearing like an out-of-touch oligarch. I'm not sure that's fair, but it is very real risk, and worth avoiding.
Oh, and one other thing. I'd make a big deal - now - out of ditching the cell phone policy.