Illinois House, Democrats investigate Amazon deaths


Illinois Correspondent

Springfield, IL – An Illinois House committee is looking into how six Amazon workers were killed in the Dec. 10 tornado that hit a company warehouse along Interstate 270 in Edwardsville, causing it to collapse.

The House Labor and Commerce Committee held a hearing into the disaster last week.

“Our priority in calling this hearing is workers’ safety,” said State Rep. Katie Stuart, (D-Edwardsville). “Employees should not have to worry about losing their lives while on the job. The Amazon warehouse was built to the highest safety standards, but our highest standards may not be enough, as evident by the deaths of six workers in the warehouse collapse.”

“We can’t stop tornadoes,” Stuart said, “but hopefully we can do what we can to stop loss of life and protect people.”.

Reps. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) and LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis) joined in the hearing along with the committee chair, Marcus Evans (D-Chicago).

“Our obligation as public officials is to look at whether or not there were things that could have been done with regard to the building code, with regard to the safety of workers,” Hoffman said.

Illinois AFL-CIO President Tim Drea testified at the hearing, pointing out that adequate training is needed for safety measures to be effective.

“You can have the safest, best safety chambers in the country, but if workers don’t know to go there, they won’t do any good,” Drea said.

OSHA is also investigating whether Amazon violated workplace safety rules and is supposed to conclude its investigation by April.

Amazon said most of its workers safely reached storm shelters and that the company took correct precautions including meeting all building codes.

Stuart said tornado shelters or safe rooms may need to be improved, and not just at Amazon.

“Many other buildings in our area are built with the same method as the Amazon warehouse, and we should be pro-active about preventing further tragedies by examining the building codes and how they are being enforced,” she said. “We may need to implement tornado shelters or safe rooms in such buildings when they have a larger workforce.”

The family of one of the victims, delivery driver Austin McEwen, 26, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in January, saying Amazon failed to warn the workers or provide safe shelter. They seek $50,000 from each of four defendants, including Amazon and the warehouse builders and developers.

Members of the House Moderate Caucus have donated more than $5,000 to the Edwardsville Community Foundation Relief fund to help with community recovery efforts and people affected by the tornado strike, including families of the deceased workers.

“One of the main goals of the House Moderate Caucus has always been to support working men and women in Illinois, and that includes making sure that they are going to work in safe environments,” said Rep. Fran Hurley (D-Chicago), leader of the group.

“We thought it was important to come together to donate funds to help Edwardsville recover, and it’s critical that legislators and community members get the answers needed on what safety standards Amazon had in place.

“We will continue, as a caucus, to advocate for the highest health and safety standards for workers in Illinois.”



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