Workers at a candle factory were told they would be fired if they left their shift early after hearing the warning signs.
Cherie Jones was waiting for her boyfriend to come home when she got a final text from him. "Amazon won't let me leave," read the text. Minutes later, the tornado hit the Amazon facility in Illinois, killing many including Larry Virden, Cherie Jones' boyfriend, who was also a father of four. Jones received the final text from Virden at 8.23 p.m. and at 8.30 p.m., the tornado struck the warehouse. "I got text messages from him. He always tells me when he is filling up the Amazon truck when he is getting ready to go back," said Jones, reported Yahoo News. "I was like ‘OK, I love you.’ He’s like, ‘well Amazon won’t let me leave until after the storm blows over.'"
Jones believes he had 20 minutes to get home. “I messaged him and that was the last text message I got from him,” she said. “I told him where we live, it was only lightning at the time. After that, I got nothing from him,” she said. The roof came down on the facility, killing at least six workers. He had been working for five months at the facility. Virden leaves behind four children. “My oldest boy, he thinks that daddy is going to come home, but now we have to tell him that daddy’s not coming home," said Jones, while their daughter sensed something was up the moment she realized he wasn't back home. "She started bawling because she knew something was wrong,” said Jones, who has to guide them through the heartbreak as she navigates her own emotions.
The quote “Amazon won’t let us leave” should be in every headline.— Amazon Labor Union (@amazonlabor) December 14, 2021
The work we do is not worth dying for, not even close. It’s time for us to look at Amazon for what it is: the modern Triangle Shirtwaist factory. https://t.co/dt3i0C8me9
Amazon announced 'thoughts and prayers' for the workers who passed away at their facility. The company has come under heavy scrutiny amidst reports of banning employees from having their mobile phones on them which could have alerted them of the catastrophe heading their way and provided them crucial information and time to react. Having been denied access to emergency weather alerts and contact with family members, many employees weren't warned or prepared for what was to come. This comes at a time when Amazon is busy sending rich people to space.
Many workers said they had never had a tornado or even a fire drill during the course of their careers dating back to six years, reported Intercept. One Amazon contractor was told that leaving for home early for the fear of Hurricane Ida would adversely affect their performance quota. The ticket messages show that the corporate didn't even realize the facility had been hit until they learned it from the media, meaning the workers weren't warned of the tornado. The company took the unusual step of encrypting internal help ticket messages about the Illinois facility after the tornado strike, making them inaccessible to most workers. “What the correspondence showed was that initially, nobody knew what was happening. It looks like they had almost no warning,” said an employee. Many workers said the management refused them permission to stay home during extreme weather conditions. "It’s always profit over employees,” said an employee.
Six people died in the Amazon warehouse, and 8 people died here. And every new detail makes it clearer that they were killed by their companies. https://t.co/jJuf5QlS5G— Read Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire (@JoshuaPotash) December 13, 2021
Many are calling for a review of practices at Amazon, including the phone ban. “This incident calls into question so much of Amazon’s practices in their warehouses,” said Marcos Ceniceros, an organizer at Warehouse Workers for Justice, reported The Guardian. “This is not the first time we’ve seen workers suffer at Amazon and we want to make sure that they’re not continuing to cut corners and putting workers at risk.”
This is the third time in six months Amazon workers have been working in the path of deadly weather. Warehouse workers also had to go in during record-smashing heat in the PNW and the deadly Ida floods in NYC. Just like those disaster, last night’s tornadoes were well forecast https://t.co/1gmUzYkJ9b— Brian Kahn (@blkahn) December 11, 2021
The workers at Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory, another spot which was severely hit by the tornado, also complained of superiors warning they'd be fired if they left their posts as the tornado approached, reported NBC News. Workers said they wanted to leave immediately after the warning sirens were heard but at least five workers stated that supervisors warned they'd be fired if they left their shifts early. At least 15 of them urged managers to let them go, but their requests were declined. Some left their shift, ignoring the warning from the supervisors.
As a catastrophic tornado approached Mayfield, Kentucky, employees of a candle factory heard the warning sirens and wanted to leave the building.— NBC News (@NBCNews) December 13, 2021
But at least four workers say supervisors warned employees that they would be fired if they left their shifts early.
“People had questioned if they could leave or go home,” said McKayla Emery, 21, an employee at the factory who survived. “If you leave, you’re more than likely to be fired,” she overheard managers tell four workers who had requested to go home citing the extreme weather conditions. The company denied they held back employees. “I heard that with my own ears,” said Emery. Another worker said managers went so far as to taking a roll call to find out who had left work.
This is a developing story, and we’ll update as we learn more. Information about the Kentucky tornado is swiftly changing, and Upworthy is committed to providing the most recent and verified updates in our articles and reportage. However, considering the frequency of developments, some of the information/data in this article may have changed since the time of publication.