Federal government investigates Amazon factory collapse

by mcardinal

Lauren Moye, FISM News


The U.S. Department of Labor announced an investigation into the circumstances that caused an Amazon.com Inc. building to collapse during this weekend’s devastating storms. Six Amazon employees were killed when the Edwardsville, Illinois building collapsed under the same storm system that sent tornadoes spiraling through six different states.

“The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has six months to complete its investigation, issue citations, and propose monetary penalties if violations of workplace safety and/or health regulations are found,” Scott Allen, a regional director for public affairs with the U.S. Department of Labor, wrote in an email.

Amazon has stated they plan to cooperate with the investigation. Company spokeswoman Kelly Nantel said, “OSHA investigates all workplace fatalities, and we are supporting them.”

Kentucky was the hardest hit by the storm system, with estimated fatalities of over 100 people. While initially it appeared as though higher numbers would come from the devastated Mayfield candle factory, officials reported that all workers have been accounted for. This leaves eight fatalities from that factory.

Jody Meiman of Louisville’s emergency management agency said, “We have a high level of confidence there is nobody in this building, there is no one left in this building.” She cited the use of K-9 search dogs and the company’s own work in connecting with employees as justification for this belief.

However, the factory management itself is embroiled in controversy after some survivors have alleged they were prevented from evacuating to safety. NBC News reported that “at least five workers” were threatened with termination if they left early, while at least “fifteen beseeched management” for permission to go home hours before the actual storm struck.

Mayfield Consumer Products adamantly denies these allegations. Company spokesperson Bob Ferguson said, “We’ve had a policy in place since COVID began. Employees can leave any time they want to leave, and they can come back the next day.”

“People had questioned if they could leave or go home,” 21-year-old employee McKayla Emery said. She said the sirens sounded hours before the actual tornado hit, prompting several employees to ask to go home when the immediate danger seemed passed.

Emery wanted to work for overtime pay, but she reported that management told co-workers, “’If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired.’ I heard that with my own ears.”

Another factory worker, Elijah Johnson, stated he asked to walk home after the initial siren. Johnson told NBC that management “told me I’d be fired.”

He then reportedly asked, “Even with the weather like this, you’re still going to fire me?”

Johnson stated that he was told “yes” in response to his question.

The Mayfield candle factory is a partner with several brands, including Bath and Body Works. Congressman James Comer, who represents the district Mayfield, Kentucky is in, told CNN that the factory had been “going 24/7” to meet the holiday season product demands. It is the third biggest employer in Graves County.

Ferguson said that emergency procedures and policies were followed the night of the tornado. He also said that the company set up a 24-hour hotline on Monday for their employees to call about hazard pay, grief counseling, and other assistance.