Deadly Collapse at Amazon Warehouse Raises Questions About Its Cellphone Ban

At least six people were killed Friday night when an Amazon warehouse was struck by a tornado, causing part of the building to collapse. Bloomberg reports that the incident "amplified concerns" about a warehouse policy that Amazon has been re-implementing for its workers: banning cellphones. 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. The phones can also help them communicate with emergency responders or loved ones if they are trapped, they said. "After these deaths, there is no way in hell I am relying on Amazon to keep me safe," said one worker from a neighboring Amazon facility in Illinois. "If they institute the no cell phone policy, I am resigning." Another worker from an Amazon warehouse in Indiana said she is using up her paid time off whenever the company decides to remain open despite warnings of extreme weather events. Having her phone with her is critical to making those decisions, especially about sudden tornado risks, she said. "I don't trust them with my safety to be quite frank," she said. "If there's severe weather on the way, I think I should be able to make my own decision about safety..." The National Weather Service puts out extreme weather alerts via text messages, letting the public know in advance about dangerous conditions... Tornadoes are trickier to anticipate than hurricanes and snowstorms, but the weather service still issues warnings to those in their path. The weather service sent such a warning at about 8 p.m. local time Friday, about 30 minutes before the storm collapsed the Edwardsville Amazon delivery station, the workers said. The Daily Beast tells the story of young Navy veteran named Clayton Cope who started working at the Amazon fulfillment center earlier this year: After an alert was issued Friday night about a deadly tornado approaching Illinois, Carla Cope told her son "to get to shelter" at the Amazon delivery facility where he was working. Instead, she told The Daily Beast her 29-year-old son, Clayton, insisted he needed to alert others about the impending natural disaster. "He just said he needed to tell someone that [the tornado] was coming," Cope told The Daily Beast on Saturday, hours after she learned her son was among six people killed in Edwardsville, Illinois, when storms ripped through. Two more Amazon warehouse workers died in 2018 when another building partially collapsed in a tornado in Balitmore. Bloomberg reports today that Amazon "declined to address the concerns raised by workers about its mobile phone policy, saying its focus now is 'on assisting the brave first responders on the scene and supporting our affected employees and partners in the area.'"

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