Amazon employees claim they were not all properly warned, as they believed smoke filled the third floor of a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama on Friday, according to a report by the Amazon. Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) (via Input† While workers on the third floor were told to clock out, take unpaid voluntary leave (VTO) and evacuate, workers on the other floors were reportedly left to continue working as an unidentified vapor spread through the facility . It later turned out that the “smoke” was evaporated oil from a faulty compressor.
According to the timeline of the events of the RWDSU, the workers on the third floor were evacuated around 1:30 PM. Hours later, workers on the first floor began seeing the smoke-like substance and did not evacuate until 5:45 p.m. They reportedly received no notification of a fire alarm, managers or through the Go screens and the A to Z app that Amazon uses to communicate with its employees, and reportedly only evacuated as more employees were notified. of the situation.
When they came out, the RWDSU said there was “limited” police and fire presence. When the night shift workers started arriving at 7pm, the workers were reportedly told to go in and get to work despite the “cloud cover” that was present in the building.
“At first I thought my glasses were just smeared, but then the air thickened and my colleague said he thought it was smoke and we had to leave,” Isaiah Thomas, an Amazon warehouse worker at the Bessemer location, told the RWDSU. “Everyone was very confused, and the lack of information made us feel very unsafe… I don’t know what I was breathing in for so long, and I don’t know if it’s still in the air at work today. †
The RWDSU says workers have since reported the situation to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and are “pending further investigation.” While the smoke was likely vaporized oil, it remains unclear whether it poses any health risks. In December, OSHA opened an investigation into the collapse of an Amazon warehouse in Illinois that killed six workers when a tornado ripped through the Midwest.
Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel called the RWDSU’s claims “false” in a statement The edge† “Due to an air compressor malfunction, smoke was coming out of the equipment,” Nantel said. “As a precaution, we evacuated the facility and called the local fire department, who responded, quickly assessing and clearing the site. We are grateful that no one was injured and appreciate the quick response of the Bessemer fire brigade.”
Nantel told The edge that no indications of dangerous circumstances were found during the investigation by the fire service. She also denies the RWDSU claim that workers were told to clock out and take VTO when evacuated, saying that workers were paid for their full shifts.
The edge reached out to the RWDSU with a request for comment, but did not immediately hear back.
Workers at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer have long been fighting for unions. It held union elections last February in which a large number of workers voted against unionization. Union organizers, however, accused Amazon of meddling in the election, claiming that Amazon had access to a mailbox through which employees cast their votes. The National Labor Relations Board later determined that Amazon had violated US labor laws and called for a new vote that began on February 4 of this year and ended on friday — just as the union vote began for a warehouse in Amazon Staten Island, New York, called JFK8. A separate warehouse on Staten Island, LDJ5, will also begin voting on April 25.
Update March 27 5:46 PM ET: Updated to add context around the Amazon warehouse collapse in Edwardsville, Illinois.
Update March 27 8:04 PM ET: Updated to add Kelly Nantel’s statement to The edge.
Update March 27, 8:30 PM ET: Updated to add additional context from Nantel.