EDWARDSVILLE — Labor activists and faith leaders from across the Midwest gathered Thursday at the site of a deadly Amazon warehouse collapse to call for safer working conditions.
The rally came a little more than a month after six people died in the warehouse when it collapsed after being hit by a tornado.
“We said that we would be back. We would not rest until we get answers, until families get closure,” said the Rev. Darryl Gray, social justice commissioner for the Progressive National Baptist Convention.
He explained to the crowd how faith leaders and labor organizers are concerned about Amazon’s working conditions and how those may have contributed to what happened in Edwardsville.
“Amazon has not acknowledged its role in this tragedy,” Gray said. “It’s not enough to say that in our building codes, our safety trainings, our emergency procedures that we just did enough.”
Amazon officials have said that the building met all applicable building codes and that workers followed safety procedures to shelter during the tornado.
Some speakers at the event lamented that the loss of life was preventable. Arnetra Rhodes, who works at an Amazon facility in Hazelwood, lost her cousin when the Edwardsville warehouse collapsed.
“We have no type of safe house in all these warehouses out here,” Rhodes said. “We need to be protected.”
She said that, as a warehouse worker, she doesn’t feel like Amazon cares about her beyond how much money she generates for them.
“They know they can do better,” she said. “It shouldn’t be an 18-year-old to have to tell y’all that.”
Other speakers, like Jeffery Hebb, whose daughter, Etheria, was one of the six who were killed, said working in a warehouse isn’t something that should lead to death.
“Somebody has to be responsible,” he said. “My daughter was not expendable. Amazon was supposed to keep them safe. They didn’t do that.”
Hebb and Gray stressed how they and others are looking forward to answers about the safety of the Amazon facility from an OSHA investigation that is underway.
Some attendees traveled from Kansas City and Chicago to show their support for the families and workers in Edwardsville. Marjock Fenner, who works for UPS and is a member of Chicago-based Teamsters Local 710, said he’s heard stories from warehouse workers in the Metro East about how they struggle with health insurance, injuries and wages.
“The point is not getting driven home until we see a situation like this, where we had a disaster happen and it’s like they’re trying to sweep it under the rug,” he said.
While the rally focused primarily on the warehouse collapse, the members of labor unions and faith leaders also used it as an opportunity to push for better conditions and pay for working-class jobs.
“It’s not a coincidence that when we talk about poor working conditions and the struggle for a decent wage that most of the workers we’re talking about are Black and female,” Gray said.
Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.