A trio of Democrats from the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Thursday accused Amazon of "obstructing" its investigation into the December 2021 collapse of a warehouse in Illinois that killed six employees.
"The committee's investigation is of crucial importance to the American people."
The collapse resulting from tornado damage at the Amazon fulfillment center in Edwardsville has heightened scrutiny of the e-commerce giant's labor practices. In late March, the House committee requested documents from the company related to the event, internal reviews of it, and broader extreme weather policies.
The panel's chair, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), joined with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Cori Bush (D-Mo.) for a Thursday letter to Amazon president and CEO Andy Jassy highlighting that the company "has failed to meaningfully comply with the committee's requests."
"These documents were due on April 14, 2022," the letter states. "Amazon still has not produced any of the key categories of documents identified by committee staff, let alone the full set of materials the committee requested."
"On May 17, 2022, counsel to Amazon claimed that Amazon is withholding these documents based on work-product and attorney-client privileges," the document continues. "As committee staff previously informed your counsel, the committee, under chairs of both parties, does not recognize common-law privileges as valid reasons to withhold documents from Congress."
\u201cFor nearly seven weeks, Amazon has failed to fully produce key documents and information regarding its labor practices, obstructing the Committee's investigation.\u201d— Oversight Committee (@Oversight Committee) 1654177817
"Amazon's inability to produce even this limited set of materials in a timely manner is troubling," the letter adds, "given that the company represented to members of Congress more than four months ago that it was 'conducting a thorough internal investigation' into the Edwardsville events, and 'cooperating' with an inquiry by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)."
Since the March request for records, the letter points out, "OSHA revealed that an inspection of the Edwardsville facility 'raised concerns about the potential risk to employees during severe weather emergencies,' and recommended that Amazon 'voluntarily take the necessary steps to eliminate or materially reduce your employees' exposure' to the risk factors OSHA identified."
The document also cast doubt on Amazon's willingness to address issues internally, noting that last month, "shareholders--following the company's recommendation--defeated a proposal for an independent audit of working conditions at the company's warehouses," a vote that came the same day that they approved Jassy's compensation package worth over $212 million.
According to the Democratic lawmakers:
The committee's investigation is of crucial importance to the American people. Employers like Amazon must prioritize worker safety over the corporate bottom line. Our investigation into Amazon's response to the events in Edwardsville and other extreme weather events seeks to determine whether Amazon's corporate practices put employee safety first, or whether your company, which now employs nearly one million people in the United States, is merely paying lip service to this principle. As we noted back in March, "This investigation will inform legislative efforts to curb unfair labor practices, strengthen protections for workers, and address the effects of climate change on worker safety."
"The committee will grant an extension until June 8, 2022, for Amazon to complete its document production," the letter concludes. "If Amazon fails to do so, the committee will have no choice but to consider alternative measures to obtain full compliance."
The warning came a day after Jassy received another letter from members of Congress related to other labor concerns--specifically, plans reported by The Intercept in April to ban certain terms like union, living wage, and slave labor from an internal messaging application.
\u201c.@Amazon's proposed worker chat app would block workers from discussing working conditions, barring terms like "union," "slave labor," & "restroom."\u00a0 This is wrong, and could be illegal. @RepCori and I are leading our colleagues to get answers from Amazon.\nhttps://t.co/OEC6RtbmJR\u201d— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1654192277
Bush and Ocasio-Cortez partnered with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Cory Booker (D-N.Y.) for that letter , which says that the plan could be illegal and "Amazon's compliance with federal labor laws is an important matter of public concern especially given the company's status as one of the largest retailers in the country."
"This disturbing report is part of a pattern of worker exploitation, retaliation, and union-busting on the part of Amazon," the app-related letter adds, requesting documents and responses to a series of questions by June 16.