As Tropical Depression Ida transformed New York City into a lake on Monday night, Amazon, absurdly, kept its warehouses open and expected staff to work.
The National Weather Service issued its first-ever flash flood emergency for the region. City residents received emergency alert warnings on their cell phones that read, “do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order.” Yet communications shared anonymously with Earther suggest that was not a good enough excuse for Amazon workers to miss their shifts. No matter the life-threatening dangers they could face on their way in, the people needed their Prime deliveries apparently.
Jonathan Bailey, an Amazon warehouse employee in New York City and co-founder of Amazonians United, a network of workers fighting for better pay and working conditions, said the floods were “freaking crazy.”
“This is like the first time that I’ve seen anything remotely like this in New York,” he said.
Despite that, he said it didn’t come as a shock that workers were expected to make their shifts at Amazon. Even as floods that have killed at least 14 swept through the city, warehouses remained open. (Earther has reached out to Amazon for comment but has not received a response. We will update this post if we hear back.)
This isn’t the first time Amazon workers have been on the job during extreme weather that’s being worsened by the climate crisis. In June, a viral TikTok showed an Amazon driver braving flooded roads in Detroit to make a delivery. That same month, during record heat in the Pacific Northwest, Amazon warehouse staff in Washington were reportedly forced to work in 90-degree heat indoors. (That same heat wave was deemed a “mass casualty event” by Oregon county officials as dozens perished.) In 2019, workers for Amazon’s Chicago operations publicly demanded air conditioning, saying that amid an excessive heat watch, management only offered popsicles to stay cool. The company has also fired employees for speaking out on unfair warehouse worker conditions who also organized for Amazon to improves its lackluster climate plan.
Last March, Bailey helped organize a walkout over concerns about covid-19 at an Amazon warehouse in Queens; he said the firm still expected people to come into work despite the risks of contracting the virus.
“So in a life-threatening [flooding] situation, that Amazon would still require us to come in ... that’s so on-brand for Amazon,” he said.
It wasn’t just Amazon employees who were expected to work despite the torrential downpour. Lyft and Uber were still operating. One video that went viral on Twitter shows a purported GrubHub delivery worker walking his bicycle through waist-deep floodwaters to drop off an order.
This all speaks to the lack of climate protections for workers in the U.S. Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers have a general duty to protect workers from recognized serious hazards in the workplace. Yet despite a years-long campaign, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has failed to issue a federal standard protecting people from extreme heat, offering only guidelines. It also has no specific standard in place to protect workers from dangerous rain or floods.
Of course, Amazon should also bear tremendous responsibility for failing to protect its workers. “Their interests are [sending CEO Jeff Bezos] into space,” said Bailey, “not whether the lives of sortation associates are being endangered or not.”
Update 4:15 pm EST: Reached for comment, Richard Rocha, a spokesperson for Amazon, sent the following statement: “Out of an abundance of caution, we’ve closed several Amazon facilities and delivery stations along the path of Hurricane Ida. We will resume operations at these sites only when it’s safe to do so. The safety and wellbeing of our employees and the drivers who deliver our packages continues to be our top priority, and our thoughts and prayers are with those affected.” The spokesperson did not address whether or not any workers were forced to work during the storm.
Correction 9/3/2021 9:45 am EST: This post has been corrected to reflect that the walkout Bailey helped organize at a Queens Amazon warehouse was in 2020, not 2021.