Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Bosses Don’t Keep Us Safe — We Need Workers’ Safety Committees

During the deadly tornadoes last weekend, workers were not allowed to leave. Incredibly, this is completely legal. Laws and safety protocols protect businesses, not workers. We need workers’ committees to manage safety on the job.

Adnan Ahmed

December 17, 2021
Facebook Twitter Share
mergency response workers dig through the rubble of the Mayfield Consumer Products candle factory in Mayfield, Ky., on Saturday December 11 after tornado
Image: AP

The deadly off-season tornadoes that hit six states this weekend have taken at least 88 lives so far. 74 of these deaths occurred in Kentucky alone where over 100 people are still unaccounted for. 

Among the dead are six Amazon workers from a collapsed warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois and eight workers from a candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky owned by Mayfield Consumer Products. In both cases, reports are emerging about employees who were not allowed to leave, and were not provided with adequate protections against the tornadoes. 

Larry Virden, a 46-year-old Amazon worker, texted his girlfriend, “Amazon won’t let us leave.” He was killed when the tornado hit the Edwardsville warehouse. Amazon workers said that they had little to no tornado preparedness instructions, and were expected to keep working during tornado warnings in the past. Meanwhile, the company blamed the deceased workers for their deaths, claiming that they were not sheltering in the designated areas. If true, this is altogether unsurprising when workers have not had tornado drills and are expected to work during tornado warnings. Amazon has a long history of compromising worker safety in the interest of prioritizing productivity, resulting in injuries and deaths.

Workers at the candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky said that they were threatened with being fired if they left during the storms, and were told to go back to work. Mayfield Consumer Products, like Amazon, also has a history of ignoring worker safety. In 2019, federal regulators found 12 violations including problems with exit routes, electrical safety, and handling equipment. The factory was operating 24/7 during the holiday season and paying its workers a meager $8 an hour. The factory was struggling to find workers during this busy time and had to rely on prison labor to meet demands. On the night the factory was hit by a tornado, seven inmates from Graves County Jail were working there. Although the inmates survived the tornado, the correctional officer supervising them was killed. The candle factory workers who survived the tornado are now suing the company for showing “flagrant indifference” to workers by expecting them to work during a tornado. 

The employer expectation for Amazon and Mayfield Consumer Products employees to keep working through a tornado should not come as a surprise. Even though Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires employers to have an Emergency Action Plan, it is ultimately up to the employers’ discretion whether or not they shut down or send workers home in the face of a natural disaster. 

In the wake of the worsening climate crisis, these senseless worker deaths in Illinois and Kentucky highlight once again how often it’s perfectly legal for the ruling class to treat workers as expendable. Laws and safety protocols are often designed to protect and shield business interests rather than workers. We have already seen this play out during the pandemic, when essential workers were called heroes while being denied PPE and hazard pay. Health workers who raised safety concerns were disciplined or fired

Over four million people in the United States have left their jobs in healthcare, retail, tech, and hospitality in what has been called “The Great Resignation.” While individual reasons for people quitting one’s jobs might vary, one common theme is discontent with current working conditions. 

Businesses are structured to cut costs and maximize profits. Their solutions don’t go beyond pizza parties, virtual happy hours, or other similar empty gestures. Workplace safety protocols are often developed in a top-down manner without consultation from workers who are most affected by unsafe working conditions. 

Neither the Amazon warehouse, nor the candle factory were unionized. To keep us safe we need combative unions in every workplace that are willing to take action for safe working conditions. Additionally, we need democratically elected worker safety committees composed of rank-and-file members who can determine what measures are needed to keep us safe in any situation such inclement weather or a pandemic. For example, during the tornadoes over the weekend, worker safety committees could have quickly decided what safety measures were needed in the moment. 

A rank-and-file worker safety committee could also encourage vaccine hesitant and anti-vaccine workers to get vaccinated against Covid-19 through discussions, education, or having them do work that does not put them into contact with others. This would be a more effective solution than imposing vaccine mandates from above.Employers will not improve our working conditions or keep us safe. Only seven of the 190 workers who worked at the Amazon warehouse in IL were full-time employees. Outsourcing jobs to contractors, rather than hiring employees, allows companies like Amazon to maximize production while avoiding blame through indemnity clauses when things go wrong and workers get injured. Unions and workers’ safety committees can play a crucial role in preventing this outsourcing and fighting for permanent job positions. Capitalist bosses will want to continue to exploit our labor and the planet for profit while leaving us to die. Too many workers have already died as a result of the bosses’ drive for bigger profits. We need a democratic movement of rank-and-file workers in every workplace to keep us safe.

Facebook Twitter Share

Adnan Ahmed

Adnan Ahmed is an activist who lives in the Twin Cities.

Labor Movement

Three tables full of food, with signs hung above them. One says "The People's Pantry: FREE FOOD." Banners hung from the tables say "Free CUNY" and "Cop Free School Zone"

CUNY Administration Cracks Down on Student and Worker-Run Food Pantry

Students and workers opened "The People's Pantry" seven weeks ago as part of a broader anti-austerity campaign at CUNY, leading to several direct confrontations with the administration.

Olivia Wood

March 19, 2023

Temple’s Grad Worker Strike Ends with Important Victories 

The last report on the strike from a union teacher at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Jason Koslowski

March 17, 2023

Teachers and Education Workers Set to Strike! Tens of Thousands Rally in Los Angeles 

A three day strike was announced by two education unions at a rally attended by tens of thousands of members. The workers are calling for increased wages, reduced class size, and an end to harassment by their employers.

Julia Wallace

March 17, 2023
A sign drawn on a small whiteboard, in trans pride colors. Text: "CUNY Graduate Center and Professional Schools Workers for Trans Rights" Beneath the text is a chain of 9 smiling stick figures in different colors, all holding hands

CUNY Union Chapter Unanimously Passes Resolution in Support of Trans Rights

The Graduate Center chapter of PSC-CUNY, the faculty, staff, and graduate worker union of the City University of New York, passed a resolution pledging support to all workers fighting the anti-trans bills nationwide.

Olivia Wood

March 12, 2023

MOST RECENT

It is Possible to Win: The Pension Reform Crisis in France

A French socialist reflects on the way forward after Macron invites Article 49.3 to pass pension reform.

Paul Morao

March 20, 2023

“We are your economy”: Trans Youth Walkout and Speak Out

The following is a speech by a young trans person as part of an action called for by NYC Youth for Trans Rights.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

March 20, 2023

Neither NATO Nor Putin: An Anti-war Program for an Anti-war Protest

The following is a flier that Left Voice distributed at the March 18 rally in DC with the anti-war program we believe we must all take up.

Left Voice

March 19, 2023

France: Macron Bets On His Presidency as Millions Rise Up

A historic two weeks of mobilizations against Macron’s pension reform, with several sectors going into open-ended strikes, and including a spectacular show of solidarity on International Women’s Day. Yet despite the massive turnout, the government pushed through the reform Thursday night, using an antidemocratic maneuver to bypass the National Assembly. Which direction will the movement take? Will it fizzle out in a failed top-down union strategy, or will it generalize the struggle to all sectors from the bottom up?

Antoine Ramboz

March 17, 2023