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Congresswoman Bush proposes new legislation aimed at improving worker safety at warehouses

Workers attempt to clear debris as part of a search and rescue operation on Dec. 11, 2021, at an Amazon Distribution Hub in Edwardsville, Illinois. Bush's two new bills aim to prevent a repeat of the deaths that happened at this facility.
Brian Munoz
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St. Louis Public Radio
Workers attempt to clear debris as part of a search and rescue operation on Dec. 11, 2021, at an Amazon Distribution Hub in Edwardsville, Illinois. Bush's two new bills aim to prevent a repeat of the deaths that happened at this facility.

Two new federal bills introduced last week are aimed at preventing a repeat of the six deaths at an Amazon facility in Edwardsville last December.

Rep. Cori Bush, D-St. Louis County, put forward the Worker Safety in Climate Disasters Act and Wind Safety Act, which she said would each create new protections for warehouse workers during extreme weather.

“What happened at Edwardsville has impacted our communities forever — two of my constituents died,” she said. “However, it was not an aberration, but part of a nationwide trend of unsafe work conditions during climate disasters.”

Bush explained the bill focused on worker safety would prevent employers from firing workers who seek shelter during emergencies and offer them paid time off if extreme weather prevents them from being able to go to work.

The other act would require the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to create a wind safety standard that would establish when high winds make for dangerous working conditions both indoors and outdoors, she said.

“The climate crisis is already devastating our community with increasingly frequent and severe heat, tornadoes and floods,” Bush said. “Without new protections, our workers and communities will continue to be subjected to deadly conditions at work and at home.”

Although these bills would apply to companies beyond Amazon, Bush was clear in saying they were a response to the six warehouse workers who died last year.

Since then, Amazon warehouse workers have complained the company isn’t prioritizing tornado protections. J Lopez, who works at an Amazon facility in St. Charles, explained the company coaches workers to prioritize their jobs even when there is a tornado warning.

“Workers are being told to finish their work at their station, put equipment away, sign out,” he said. “There’s zero urgency to move to sheltered areas.”

When Lopez’s warehouse came under a tornado warning this spring, he said Amazon was unprepared and workers were told to stand by. Those who spoke up about the situation were reprimanded, Lopez added.

“Workers shouldn’t have to decide to risk their jobs to feel safe or to follow the company's orders and fear for their lives,” he said.

Lopez said he doesn't see his employer making any changes to safety protocols unless forced to by new laws or regulations. He points to the company’s decision to rebuild its warehouse in Edwardsville without any official storm shelter.

“It’s pretty clear with them rebuilding that warehouse without any additional shelter, without any additional precautions for weather,” he said. “They’ll make those policies that suit them and not us.”

Bush pointed to an OSHA report and letter that identified ways the company can improve safety for the next time extreme weather strikes.

“Honestly, it doesn’t take an investigation to show that they aren’t building storm shelters,” she said. “This is a brazen and problematic move and highlights the need for these further protections.”

Eric Schmid covers economic development for St. Louis Public Radio. 

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.

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