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Amazon driver was warned she’d be fired for returning with packages during a tornado

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‘It won’t be viewed as for your own safety’

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

An Amazon delivery driver in Illinois was told to keep delivering packages after she reported hearing tornado sirens, with the dispatcher saying that the sirens were “just a warning.” According to a report by Bloomberg, which includes screenshots of the conversation, the driver was told that returning to the warehouse would be viewed as a route refusal, “which [would] ultimately end with you not having a job come tomorrow morning.”

The conversation reportedly happened on Friday evening, around an hour and a half before a tornado hit an Amazon facility around 30 miles away from the driver. After being told twice to “just keep delivering,” the driver was eventually instructed to shelter in place “for 15-20 minutes, then continue as normal.” (The instructions to shelter in place were repeated several more times after.) The driver, expressing that a delivery van wouldn’t provide much safety, said she wanted to return to base.

The dispatcher’s response is harrowing: “If you decide to come back, that choice is yours. But I can tell you it won’t be viewed as for your own safety. The safest practice is to stay exactly where you are.” The dispatcher said drivers couldn’t be recalled unless Amazon directed it and that she would lose her job if she returned. The tornado ended up touching down near a highway, throwing cars in the air, according to Bloomberg, though the driver involved in the text exchange is reported to be safe.

Amazon told Bloomberg that the dispatcher “should have immediately directed the driver to seek shelter” when they reported hearing the sirens and said that “under no circumstance should the dispatcher have threatened the driver’s employment.” The company says it’s investigating the incident.

The Amazon facility wasn’t a safe haven either: a warehouse collapsed during the storm, leaving six workers dead. Bloomberg reports that the warehouse didn’t conduct drills to make sure people were prepared in case of an emergency.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced that it’s investigating the warehouse incident, and experts say that Amazon’s lack of action can be traced back to Amazon’s endless drive to please customers at all costs and a lack of policy that would legally obligate the company to send its workers home. The incident was cited by an Amazon shareholder that filed a shareholder resolution calling for an independent audit of the company’s working conditions.

Amazon drivers (who are often not direct employees of Amazon but instead work at companies contracted by the online commerce giant) have a history of being put in harm’s way to meet quotas. Earlier this year, there were reports of drivers being told to turn off the (often buggy, according to reviews) app used to make sure delivery workers were driving safely.