At least six people are dead and more injured after the partial collapse of an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, on the night of December 10. As of the morning of December 12, search and recovery efforts were ongoing through the rubble of the facility, and expected to continue through December 14. At least one person was evacuated by helicopter the night of the collapse.
Reports indicate that as many as 100 workers may have been inside the DLI4 facility when it was struck by an EF3 tornado around 8:35 p.m.
At 5 p.m. the National Weather Service had issued a Tornado Watch for portions of Illinois and Missouri, including Edwardsville, which sits less than 30 miles across the Missouri River from St. Louis. At 8 p.m., this was upgraded to a Tornado Warning for the area, meaning that an active tornado had been observed. A series of twisters touched down in the area destroying homes and buildings that evening and leaving at least one other person dead.
Despite this danger, operations continued at the delivery station where packages are prepared and loaded out for delivery. Far from shutting down or limiting work, the warehouse was in the process of a shift change when the building collapsed which has complicated the process of accounting for all workers.
Amazon’s rapid growth
While many working-class people in the United States have suffered greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic, facing hunger, homelessness and massive debt, Amazon has thrived and grown.
The Edwardsville facility, named DLI4, was part of this expansion, opening in July 2020. Illinois in particular has been the largest site of growth for the company in the Midwest. In 2020 alone, the company hired 15,000 workers in Illinois, increasing their statewide workforce by 72% and becoming one of the state’s largest private employers. This trend seems poised to continue for 2021, with several new Amazon facilities currently under construction, particularly, like the one in Edwardsville, in suburban areas near major metropolitan centers.
In many cases, this massive expansion has been funded not by Amazon’s own considerable capital, but instead by using taxpayer money as reporting by WBEZ revealed in October 2020. This has grown their footprint in the state to more than 40 major warehouses, sortation centers and delivery stations, up from just 17 at the beginning of 2020. Despite frequent community opposition to these new facilities, Amazon has shown no signs of slowing down, with warehouses being quickly constructed in as few as six months.
Profits over safety
Amidst this rapid growth, Amazon has also become notorious for its lax safety standards and punishing working conditions, especially around times of high package delivery like the holidays. At Amazon warehouses, speed is prioritized above all else, and this disregard for safety means that their facilities are some of the most dangerous places to work.
Earlier this year, the Strategic Organizing Center released a report on their analysis of worker injury rates at Amazon as compared with others in the warehouse industry. They found that: “Workers at Amazon warehouses are not only injured more frequently than in non-Amazon warehouses, they are also injured more severely. In 2020, for every 100 Amazon warehouse workers there were 5.9 serious injuries requiring the worker to either miss work entirely (lost time) or be placed on light or restricted duty (light duty). This rate is nearly 80% higher than the serious injury rate for all other employers in the warehousing industry in 2020.”
In fact, injury rates at Amazon warehouses are so high and out of proportion to industry standards, that last year Washington state created a special category of Workers’ Compensation premiums just for Amazon Fulfillment Centers. This resulted in a 15% increase in premiums for Amazon to compensate for the increased risk of working there.
The bottom line
Like all corporations, Amazon derives its massive profits not from the products they sell, but from the labor of its workforce. Their primary innovations have been in controlling and managing this workforce so as to extract the maximum amount of labor power possible from them.
Amazon’s gargantuan logistical apparatus, which enables it to make billions of dollars, is held together by workers that the corporation sees not as human beings, but as just more disposable pieces of machinery.
Feature photo credit: Elliot Brown (CC BY-SA 2.0)