Bad Business

Amazon driver's job was threatened for asking to go home during tornadoes

Amazon wants us to blame the dispatcher. But Amazon's delivery problems run much deeper.

EDWARDSVILLE, IL - DECEMBER 11: Arriving Amazon shipment trucks are seen staged near the damaged Ama...
Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Amazon’s harsh warehouse worker rules have never been clearer than in the aftermath of a tornado that killed six employees in Illinois last week. A new report reveals more of the same: An Amazon driver based at that same warehouse was warned that she would lose her job if she stopped delivering packages during the deadly storms.

The driver’s manager — a dispatcher — told her to “just keep delivering” after she raised concerns about following through with her delivery route as the storm approached, according to text messages seen by Bloomberg. “We can’t just call people back for a warning unless Amazon tells us to,” the supervisor wrote in a text message.

“Having alarms going off next to me and nothing but locked building (sic) around me isn’t sheltering in place,” the driver wrote, “That’s wanting to turn this van into a casket.”

Amazon pleads innocent — The manager leaves no room for interpretation in their instructions. After the driver expressed concerns over, you know, dying in a series of tornadoes, the supervisor says the following:

“If you decided to come back, that choice is yours. But I can tell you it won’t be viewed as for your own safety. The safest practice is to stay exactly where you are. If you decide to return with your packages, it will be viewed as you refusing your route, which will ultimately end with you not having a job come tomorrow morning. The sirens are just a warning.”

Amazon hasn’t outright condemned the dispatcher’s responses, though a company spokesperson did say proper safety protocols were not followed. “Under no circumstance should the dispatcher have threatened the driver’s employment, and we’re investigating the full details of this incident and will take any necessary action,” the spokesperson said.

Profits over people — Amazon isn’t the only one investigating the Illinois warehouse’s practices. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has opened a case of its own to figure out what went wrong at the warehouse. Current and former warehouse employees told Bloomberg they’d never practiced any physical emergency preparedness drills.

Amazon’s willingness to admit something went wrong at the Edwardsville warehouse is a refreshing change from its usual outright denial. But the company’s statement still fails to address the sweeping issues that likely influenced the dispatchers’ messages.

Amazon’s workplace conditions are the subject of much controversy. The company’s delivery drivers, in particular, have accused Amazon of implementing ludicrous quotas and generally forcing them to prioritize rushed delivery times over using the bathroom. Even innocent bystanders on the road are adversely affected by this mindset.

In this context, Amazon’s admission feels more like a sidestep. It’s not going to step up and look into what the root cause is here; much easier to just blame the dispatcher instead.