Amazon.com Inc. is reconsidering plans to revive a ban on cell phones in its warehouses amid the emergence of a new strain of COVID-19 and after six workers died at a facility struck by a tornado last week.
For years, Amazon prohibited employees from having their phones on warehouse floors and required them to leave them in their vehicles or in lockers near break rooms. The rule was temporarily relaxed during the pandemic, but was scheduled to resume in January, according to documents reviewed by Bloomberg. Now the company’s thinking on the matter is “fluid,” according to a person familiar with the situation.
An Amazon spokeswoman said company policy currently allows all Amazon employees and delivery drivers to have access to their phones during their shifts. But several workers in different states told Bloomberg their managers had already resumed the ban.
One person whose job entails training new hires said some managers began banning phones to see if doing so caused absenteeism to spike or employees to complain. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they’re not authorized to speak with the media.
The deadly collapse of the Edwardsville, Illinois, warehouse near St. Louis amplified concerns among its blue-collar workforce about the return of the phone ban in work areas. Much of the warehouse was reduced to rubble when a string of tornadoes ripped through six states, leaving a trail of destruction that stretched more than 200 miles.
Five Amazon employees, including two who work across the street from the building that collapsed, said they want access to information such as updates on potentially deadly weather events through their smartphones — without interference from Amazon. The phones can also help them communicate with emergency responders or loved ones if they are trapped, they said.
Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel released a statement saying: “We’re deeply saddened by the news that members of our Amazon family passed away as a result of the storm in Edwardsville, IL. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their loved ones, and everyone impacted by the tornado. We also want to thank all the first responders for their ongoing efforts on scene. We’re continuing to provide support to our employees and partners in the area.”
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