FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 26, 2022
Contact: Chelsea Connor | [email protected] | 347-866-6259
WORKERS KEPT AT THEIR STATIONS FOR HOURS AMID HEALTH AND SAFETY INCIDENT AT BESSEMER, ALABAMA FACILITY
Unknown Vaporized Substance Spread Throughout the Warehouse
(BESSEMER, AL) – Midday yesterday, a compressor in the Bessemer, Alabama Amazon facility malfunctioned spraying excessive amounts of what workers thought at the time was smoke, but now understand to potentially be vaporized oil, into an air vent that rapidly clouded the air on the third floor of the warehouse.
At approximately 1:30 PM CT, workers on the third floor of the warehouse were told to clock out and go on Voluntary Time Off (VTO), which is unpaid, and evacuate. Meanwhile workers on other floors were neither notified of this, nor told to stop working and the substance spread through the air vents.
At approximately 4:30 PM CT, workers on the first floor of the facility began to see what they thought at the time was smoke. No facility alarms or notifications to workers via Go screens, the A to Z app, text messages or otherwise went out to workers at any time during the day.
At approximately 5:45 PM CT, workers began to quietly leave the facility via word of mouth, with no specific notice from managers. When they exited the building, some limited fire and police service vehicles were on the scene and HR managers began scanning badges and telling workers to clock out of day-shift.
Shift change at the facility is between 5:30 PM CT and 7:00 PM CT, and overnight-shift workers began to arrive at the facility while day-shift workers were waiting for more information. At 7:00PM CT, workers were verbally told to re-enter the building and begin their shifts, with cloudiness still in the air inside the facility.
Workers have notified the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) of the incident, and are awaiting further investigation into the matter. It is unclear if the vaporized substance will cause any health issues or if it is caustic.
“At first, I thought my glasses were just smudged, but then the air got thicker, and my co-worker said he thought it was smoke and we should leave. Everyone was very confused, and the lack of information made us feel very unsafe. We didn’t know what was happening and many of us sought safety in our cars and tried to get as far away from the building as possible. When I heard from my co-workers on the third floor that they were VTOed so many hours earlier I was shocked why they would have the rest of us keep working, and why there was no notification or alarm sounded for all those hours. I don’t know what I was breathing in for that long, and I don’t know if it’s still in the air at work today either. I feel very unsafe and I wish management would treat us like humans and care about our safety in a real way. Accidents happen, but there’s no reason why thousands of workers should have had to keep working breathing in what we thought was smoke for hours. Why is my health less important than a package getting shipped? Yesterday was the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, which happened over 100 years ago; in 2022 workers shouldn’t have to fear dying in a fire at work,” said Isaiah Thomas, Amazon worker in Bessemer, Alabama.
“Amazon knowingly kept workers at their stations for hours during the incident, failed to properly evacuate the facility, and told workers to go back to work before any clarity on the safety of the vapor in the air was known. It is unconscionable that Amazon would keep workers at their stations when there is a known health and safety issue. Workers' lives should never be put in jeopardy for profits, something Amazon has an inexcusable history of doing. Workers did the right thing leaving when they felt unsafe yesterday, and in reporting this to OSHA, who must investigate this fully. Amazon must be held accountable for this. We hope the substance workers were inhaling for hours has no long-term harmful effects, but the simple fact that workers were in that situation demonstrates Amazon’s blatant disregard for the health and safety of their employees,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU).
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The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) represents 100,000 members throughout the United States. The RWDSU is affiliated with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW). For more information, please visit our website at www.rwdsu.org, Facebook:/RWDSU.UFCW Twitter:@RWDSU.