After Deadly Warehouse Collapse in Tornado, Amazon Employees Don't Want Phone Ban to Come Back

"When, God forbid, there's the next major weather disaster, people need their phones," an Amazon employee tells PEOPLE

EDWARDSVILLE, IL - DECEMBER 11: Safety personnel and first responders survey a damaged Amazon Distribution Center on December 11, 2021 in Edwardsville, Illinois. According to reports, the Distribution Center was struck by a tornado Friday night. Emergency vehicles arrived to start rescue operations for workers believed to be trapped inside.
Photo: Michael B. Thomas/Getty

Amazon's blue-collar workers are speaking out about the company's phone policies after a tornado caused an Amazon warehouse building in Illinois to collapse on Friday, killing six people.

According to Bloomberg, Amazon previously prohibited its employees from using or carrying their phones on warehouse floors, but "backed off" during the pandemic. The company had since begun reintroducing the rule — and five unnamed staffers told the outlet they are worried about how a ban could impact them during emergencies like the tornado, Bloomberg reported.

Speaking with PEOPLE, an Amazon employee — who asked to remain anonymous to protect their employment — echoes the concerns.

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"Before, as policy, we couldn't have our cell phones — this was inside the warehouses, the fulfillment centers," the employee says. "And then during the pandemic, they eased off on that. But now they're talking about bringing back the full policy that you can't have your cell phone with you when you're inside the building."

A spokesperson for Amazon tells PEOPLE that "employees and drivers are allowed to have their cell phones," but did not clarify whether management had begun reinstituting the rule. The company told Bloomberg that it is focused "on assisting the brave first responders on the scene and supporting our affected employees and partners in the area."

"If there's a severe weather event like we had with the tornadoes, or if there's a mass shooter... what's going to happen to the people who don't have their phones with them? They're just stuck," says the employee. "They have no contact with the outside world. They can't call for help. Their families are left terrorized because they can't reach them."

On Sunday, the Edwardsville Police Department released a statement identifying the six victims who were killed after the tornado touched down at Amazon's Edwardsville facility at about 8:30 p.m. on Friday: Deandre S. Morrow, 28, of St. Louis, Missouri; Kevin D. Dickey, 62, of Carlyle, Illinois; Clayton Lynn Cope, 29, of Alton, Illinois; Etheria S. Hebb, 34, of St. Louis; Larry E. Virden, 46, of Collinsville, Illinois; and Austin J. McEwen, 26, of Edwardsville, Illinois.

James Whiteford, the fire chief in Edwardsville, said in a news conference on Saturday that 45 individuals were confirmed to have made it out of the building.

Following the deadly tornado, the Amazon staffer tells PEOPLE that workers are taking matters into their own hands.

"A bunch have had enough," the worker says. "We're just going to bring our phones even if they tell us the policy is coming back into play. We're not going to abide by that."

The insider claims that many employees feel like Amazon "doesn't care about our well being" and that "conditions are very difficult to work under."

"It cares about profits. We understand that. It's a business. They're not a church. They're not a government. They're a business in business to make money, which they are very good at," the Amazon employee says. "But they exert so much authority over people who work here, to our detriment."

While the phone ban had long been frustrating, the recent tornado "brought this home," the employee says: "People died. People got hurt. It has happened before, and it will happen again. When, God forbid, there's the next major weather disaster, people need their phones."

"Our phones are the lifeline — we need them," the staffer adds. "That's what we want — we want our lifelines. We're not going to just let this sit."

Jeff Bezos — who previously served as Amazon's CEO and is now the company's executive chairman — has said he's "heartbroken" over the tornado deaths.

Following his latest Blue Origin space launch on Saturday, Bezos wrote via Twitter, "The news from Edwardsville is tragic."

"We're heartbroken over the loss of our teammates there, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones," he continued. "All of Edwardsville should know that the Amazon team is committed to supporting them and will be by their side through this crisis."

Added Bezos: "We extend our fullest gratitude to all the incredible first responders who have worked so tirelessly at the site."

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