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Amazon accused of obstructing probe into deadly warehouse collapse
House Dems demand documents from CEO on facility hit by tornado – or else
Updated The US House Oversight Committee has told Amazon CEO Andy Jassy to turn over documents pertaining to the collapse of an Amazon warehouse – and if he doesn't, the lawmakers say they will be forced to "consider alternative measures."
Penned by Oversight Committee members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO) and committee chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), the letter refers to the destruction of an Edwardsville, Illinois, Amazon fulfillment center in which six people were killed when a tornado hit. It was reported that the facility received two weather warnings about 20 minutes before the tornado struck at 8.27pm on December 10; most staff had headed to a shelter, some to an area where there were no windows but was hard hit by the storm.
In late March, the Oversight Committee sent a letter to Jassy with a mid-April deadline to hand over a variety of documents, including disaster policies and procedures, communication between managers, employees and contractors, and internal discussion of the tornado and its aftermath.
"Nearly seven weeks have passed since the April 2022 deadline, yet Amazon still has not produced any of the key categories of documents identified by Committee," members wrote in the June letter.
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In addition to the items the committee requested, the letter said that Amazon has also "refused to produce any documents related to internal investigations and reviews of the Edwardsville incident." Amazon has claimed work-product and attorney-client privilege to withhold the documents; the Oversight committee said it "does not recognize common-law privileges as valid reasons to withhold documents from Congress."
Following an inspection at Edwardsville that concluded in late April, OSHA declined to fine Amazon though concluded in a letter to the US giant there were several issues at the facility "which raised concerns about the potential risk to employees during severe weather emergencies."
Of particular concern to the workplace safety watchdog was the emergency megaphone, which was locked in a cage where management couldn't access it. Also cited was a lack of emergency training for employees, many of whom told OSHA they never received such guidance and had no idea where the warehouse's tornado shelter was located. Additionally, the emergency plan for the warehouse "was not customized with specific instructions … for this facility and it contained elements that would not be encountered in Edwardsville, IL, such as a hurricane," OSHA said.
The letter from the Oversight Committee also took aim at Amazon's recent shareholder meeting, during which stock owners voted down 15 shareholder proposals, including one that would have audited working conditions at the company's warehouses, on the board's recommendation. An additional proposal would have looked at disparities in health and safety between Amazon's office and warehouse workers, but was also voted down on the board's recommendation.
The Oversight Committee goes so far as to call Amazon's actions "obstruction," setting up a potential legal fight over the investigation. Amazon has an out, though: the committee extended its deadline for providing the requested documents to June 8. ®
Updated to add
"We were surprised to receive this letter because we began producing materials to the Committee just two weeks after receiving its initial request and have produced more than 1,500 pages of responsive information," said Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel.
"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."