The death of six workers at an Amazon warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, during a Dec. 10 tornado didn’t have to happen. Workers died because Jeff Bezos is too cheap to build safe buildings.
The Amazon founder has a $202 billion fortune. A day after the Edwardsville tragedy Bezos had one of his Blue Origin rockets lift off the launch pad.
Bezos is spending a billion dollars a year on his space toys. Workers’ safety is another matter.
The Edwardsville facility, located 25 miles northeast of St. Louis, was built in a tornado alley. Between 1991 and 2011 four storms roared through the area with speeds of at least 136 mph. The Dec. 10 tornado was just as severe.
Like many warehouses — as well as Walmart, Home Depot and Target stores — the big box buildings are fabricated using “tilt-up wall construction” to save money. Concrete panels weighing dozens of tons are held together by the roof.
But if the roof is blown away the panels will fall and crush anyone underneath. That’s what happened in 2014 to a Home Depot in Joplin, Missouri, where eight people were killed. The same thing occurred in Edwardsville.
The only emergency shelter available to workers in the Amazon warehouse were the bathrooms. Concrete blocks fell in one of them and crushed a worker to death. The warehouse employees received virtually no emergency training.
Larry Virden, one of the workers who died, texted his partner that “Amazon won’t let us leave.” He left behind four children.
Lack of concern for workers’ health and safety is a company tradition. Fifteen workers collapsed during a 2011 heat wave at an Amazon warehouse in Breinigsville, Pennsylvania, 11 miles from Allentown.
The company knew of the health dangers but refused to reduce the line speed. Amazon instead parked ambulances outside the door.
The Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama ― where Bezos spent millions to stop a union organizing drive ― is another potential deathtrap. It too sits in a tornado alley.
Candle factory deathtrap
On the same day that six workers died in Edwardsville, another tornado killed eight workers in Mayfield, Kentucky. They made candles at the Mayfield Consumer Products factory.
Some of the workers who were rescued were found buried alive. Survivors are furious that the company didn’t cancel the evening shift despite warnings that tornadoes were likely to strike the area.
Starting wage at this sweatshop located in Western Kentucky is $8 per hour with forced overtime. Workers are hired for 10-hour and 12-hour shifts.
Many of the workers are immigrants. Seven employees on the evening shift were prisoners from the local jail.
Survivors filed a class-action lawsuit because they were threatened with firing if they left work early because the tornados were coming.
Factory worker Elijah Johnson told CNN that he was told by a foreman that he would be fired if he left.
“I said, ‘Man, you’re going to refuse to let us leave, even if the weather is this bad and the tornado’s not here yet?,” recounted Mr. Johnson. “He was like, ‘If you want to decide to leave, if you want to leave, you can leave, but you’re going to be terminated. You’re going to be fired.’ “
Behind the death of eight workers at the Mayfield factory are chain stores like Bath and Body Works that purchase the candles. To these criminals the Christmas rush is more important than human lives.
Chairman emeritus of Bath and Body Works is the billionaire Leslie Wexner, who was a close associate of the late sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein.
Capitalism = death
To capitalists profits come first before safety. In 1869, 110 mostly Irish coal miners were burned alive at the Avon Mine in Plymouth, Pennsylvania. The owners refused to build a second entrance that would have allowed the miners to escape.
In 1911, Italian and Jewish young women jumped to their deaths at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory rather than be burned alive. One hundred forty-six workers were killed because the owners locked the doors in the building at Greene Street and Washington Place in Manhattan.
In the early 1930s, hundreds of mainly Black workers were killed by silicon dust in building the Hawks Nest tunnel for Union Carbide in West Virginia. Fifty years later a leak at Union Carbide’s pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, killed as many as 8,000 people.
In 1991, 25 workers choked to death in a Hamlet, North Carolina, chicken plant whose owner locked the doors.
Capitalist global supply chains kill more workers. In 2013, some 1,134 workers died when their garment sweatshop collapsed in Dhaka, Bangladesh. That’s eight times the number of workers who were killed at Triangle Shirtwaist.
None of these disasters had to happen. They were all the result of capitalist greed.
The best way to remember those who were killed in the recent tornadoes is to organize. If the Amazon and Mayfield workers had a union to protect them, they could have walked off the job to save their lives.
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