Growing up in Colorado, tornado drills at our elementary schools were routine. We would walk into the hallway, get down and hug our knees while holding our heads and wait until the teachers announced we could go back to class. From there, we went on with our lives as if nothing had happened. This is because we were fortunate enough to not have to experience a real tornado ripping through the school. They were simply drills.
However, the rest of the Midwest and South knows all too well the realities of tornado season. Typically, tornado season is from late-spring to early-summer in the months of May and June with an average of 1,000 tornadoes per year from 1991 to 2010, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Preliminary reports from the NOAA also stated 1,174 tornadoes occurred in 2021.
The findings of the NOAA don’t immediately cause any concern or fear. They seem relatively standard compared to the 1,057 tornadoes that occurred in 2020. However, a dangerous low-pressure system that came through in mid-December of 2021 resulted in nearly 35-44 tornadoes wreaking havoc across nine Midwestern and Southern states.
Of the dozens of tornadoes that touched down, two of them resulted in a preventable loss of life.
While the storm system killed nearly a hundred people as several thousands of houses were destroyed, it wasn’t the tornadoes that killed these 14 people. It was the fact that their companies forced their employees to stay, in fear of retaliation by their bosses, instead of being told to return to the comfort and safety of their houses while surrounded by loved ones when being in the path of the tornadoes.
In Illinois, a tornado killed six Amazon employees when it ripped through a warehouse, causing the roof of the building to collapse inward. That same night in Kentucky, another tornado killed eight Mayfield Consumer Products employees and left the building in rubble.
Several investigations have been launched since the allegations that Amazon and Mayfield Consumer Products told their employees not to go home and they would be fired if they did so, despite the increasing amount of tornado warnings.
However, the hope an investigation will uncover the truth about companies violating labor laws and putting employee lives below profits is unlikely to happen when companies simply deny the allegations against them and use their economic status and prevention of unions to stay out of trouble.
Amazon, for example, has been under scrutiny from the public numerous times for violating labor laws and unsafe working conditions, yet remains one of the most successful companies with hundreds of millions of dollars in profits because they put so much effort in preventing their employees from unionizing.
But it is at times in which human life is lost that the importance of unions is brought to light. Had the Amazon employees been unionized, they would have been treated according to the standard of human decency, with the respect and dignity they deserved. Instead, Amazon is unwilling to close one of its locations because it will be hit by a tornado in order to save its Prime member two-day delivery.
America has always been a capitalist country, always looking for the cheapest and fastest way to make a profit for those with already deep and plentiful pockets. Additionally, Americans often laud stories of individuals working their way up the socioeconomic ladder, working multiple jobs just to provide for themselves and their families. As a result of this system, the average employee is left on their own to fight for basic human necessities, a liveable wage and, most importantly, a safe workplace.
In 2022, I can only hope amid the natural disaster the United States is bound to endure, companies stop treating their employees as disposable machines. But, it is up to the employees of these reckless companies to broaden and strengthen their fight by unionizing, ultimately preventing the capitalist obstruction of human rights mechanisms. Maybe then the children growing up with tornado drills can grow up without the fear of facing the weight of a tornado on top of surviving the labor market.