Amazon.com Inc. warehouse collapse 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.
The warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, near St. Louis, was reduced to rubble when a string of tornadoes ripped through six states, leaving a trail of destruction that stretched more than 200 miles. Emergency responders expect recovery efforts to continue into next week.
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.
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“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.”
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.”