Skip to main content

Amazon workers say they weren’t all alerted as smoke spread through a warehouse

Amazon workers say they weren’t all alerted as smoke spread through a warehouse


At the same Bessemer, Alabama warehouse where Amazon workers are fighting to unionize

Share this story

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Amazon workers claim they weren’t all properly alerted as what they thought was smoke filled the third floor at a Bessemer, Alabama warehouse on Friday, according to a report from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) (via Input). While workers on the third floor were told to clock out, go on unpaid voluntary time off (VTO), and evacuate, employees on the other floors were allegedly left to continue working as an unidentified vapor spread throughout the facility. The “smoke” was later found to be vaporized oil from a malfunctioning compressor.

According to the RWDSU’s timeline of events, workers on the third floor evacuated around 1:30PM. Hours later, workers on the first floor started seeing the smoke-like substance and didn’t evacuate until 5:45PM. They reportedly received no notification from a fire alarm, managers, or through the Go screens and A to Z app that Amazon uses to communicate with its workers, and allegedly only knew to evacuate as more employees got word of the situation.

“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”

When they got outside, the RWDSU says there was “limited” police and fire presence. As the overnight shift workers began to arrive at 7:00PM, employees were reportedly told to go inside and begin working despite the “cloudiness” present inside the building.

“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,” 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 that long, and I don’t know if it’s still in the air at work today either.”

The RWDSU says workers have since reported the situation to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA), and “are awaiting further investigation.” Although 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 as a tornado ripped through the Midwest.

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel called the RWDSU’s claims “false” in a statement to The Verge. “An air compressor malfunction resulted in smoke emitting from the equipment,” Nantel said. “Out of an abundance of caution, we evacuated the facility and called the local fire department who responded and quickly evaluated and cleared the site. We’re thankful no one was injured and we appreciate the swift actions of the Bessemer Fire Department.”

Nantel told The Verge that the fire department’s investigation found no evidence of hazardous conditions. She also denies the RWDSU’s claim that employees were told to clock out and take VTO upon evacuating, and says employees were paid for their entire shifts.

The Verge reached out to the RWDSU with a request for comment but didn’t immediately hear back.

Workers at Amazon’s Bessemer warehouse have long been fighting to unionize. It held a union election last February in which a large number of workers voted against unionizing. However, union organizers accused Amazon of meddling with the election, alleging that Amazon had access to a mailbox workers used to cast their ballots. The National Labor Relations Board later determined that Amazon violated US labor laws, and called for a new vote that began on February 4th of this year and ended on Friday — just as the union vote for an Amazon Staten Island, New York warehouse, called JFK8, began. A separate Staten Island warehouse, LDJ5, is also set to begin voting on April 25th.

Update March 27th 5:46PM ET: Updated to add context surrounding the Amazon warehouse collapse in Edwardsville, Illinois.

Update March 27th 8:04PM ET: Updated to add Kelly Nantel’s statement to The Verge.

Update March 27th 8:30PM ET: Updated to add additional context from Nantel.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 24 Striking out

External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.

The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.

Andrew WebsterSep 24
Looking for something to do this weekend?

Why not hang out on the couch playing video games and watching TV. It’s a good time for it, with intriguing recent releases like Return to Monkey Island, Session: Skate Sim, and the Star Wars spinoff Andor. Or you could check out some of the new anime on Netflix, including Thermae Romae Novae (pictured below), which is my personal favorite time-traveling story about bathing.

A screenshot from the Netflix anime Thermae Romae Novae.
Thermae Romae Novae.
Image: Netflix
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.

Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.

External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.

External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.