According to a complaint from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), Amazon workers allege they weren’t all adequately warned when what they thought was smoke filled the third floor of a Bessemer, Alabama warehouse on Friday (via Input).
Employees on the other levels were allegedly permitted to work while personnel on the third floor were instructed to clock out, take unpaid voluntary time off (VTO), and evacuate while an unknown mist swept throughout the complex. Later, it was discovered that the “smoke” was really evaporated oil from a broken compressor.
Workers on the third level were evacuated at 1:30 p.m., according to the RWDSU chronology of events. Workers on the first level saw the smoke-like material hours later and didn’t escape until 5:45 p.m. They apparently received no indication from a fire alarm, supervisors, or the Go screens and A to Z app used by Amazon to connect with its employees, and only learned to evacuate when more employees learned of the incident.
The RWDSU claims there was “minimal” police and fire presence when they went outdoors. Employees were apparently urged to go inside and start working as soon as the nighttime shift workers arrived at 7:00 p.m., despite the “cloudiness” prevalent within the facility.
“At first, I assumed my glasses were just smeared,” Isaiah Thomas, an Amazon warehouse worker at the Bessemer location, told the RWDSU. “But then the air grew heavier, and my coworker said he suspected it was smoke, and we should leave.” “Everyone was perplexed, and the lack of knowledge made us feel quite vulnerable…” I’m not sure what I was inhaling for so long, and I’m not sure whether it’s still in the air at work today.”
Workers have already reported the incident to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and are “awaiting further investigation,” according to the RWDSU. Despite the fact that the smoke was most likely evaporated oil, it is unknown if it causes any health dangers. OSHA launched an investigation in December into the collapse of an Amazon warehouse in Illinois, which killed six people as a storm raced across the Midwest.
In a reply to news outlets, Amazon spokesman Kelly Nantel termed the RWDSU’s assertions “false.” “Smoke was emitted from the equipment due to an air compressor fault,” Nantel explained. “We evacuated the facility out of an abundance of caution and notified the local fire department, who arrived swiftly and examined and cleaned the location.” We’re grateful that no one was hurt, and we appreciate the Bessemer Fire Department’s quick response.”
Workers at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse have been trying to form a union for a long time. Last February, it held a union election in which a huge majority of workers voted against unionization. Union organizers, on the other hand, accused Amazon of interfering with the election, claiming that Amazon had access to a mailbox where workers submitted their ballots.
The National Labor Relations Board eventually concluded that Amazon had broken US labor regulations and ordered a fresh ballot, which began on February 4th and finished on Friday – the same day as the union vote for Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York. On April 25th, LDJ5, a separate Staten Island warehouse, will begin voting.