Amid a country-wide race to lure Amazon’s HQ2, Indiana officials quietly absolved Amazon of wrongdoing after one of its workers was killed in a 2017 forklift accident at an Indiana warehouse, despite protests from the investigator who conducted the report.
State inspector John Stallone found Amazon at fault for failing to properly certify 59-year-old Phillip Lee Terry to operate a forklift after Terry was crushed to death by the 1,200-pound piece of equipment while he was conducting maintenance, according to an investigation conducted by The Center for Investigative Reporting.
Stallone first realized Amazon was at fault after interviewing one of Terry’s colleagues.
“The safety issues I’ve brought up have been dismissed and not dealt with,” the worker said in a signed statement. “I want to see the safety culture in Amazon change and ensure the maintenance workers have the appropriate amount of training. There’s no training, there’s no safety, it’s ‘Get ’er done.’”
But after filing his report, which included four safety citations and a fine of $28,000, Stallone got pushback from state higher-ups. Stallone secretly recorded a call, which is legal in Indiana, between Amazon and Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) director Julie Alexander in which Alexander tells the Amazon officials what steps she will take to ensure the findings are changed to attribute Terry’s death to “employee misconduct.”
“I hope you don’t take it personally if we have to manipulate your citations,” Alexander told Stallone after the call. “They’re wanting to probably take this offer and go back and look and say, ‘Hey, we’re partnering with Indiana. We’re going to be the leader.’”
Stallone also alleges that Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb told him to back off the case or resign during a meeting with Indiana Labor Commissioner Rick Ruble.
The governor’s office denied the meeting with Stallone and the labor commissioner ever took place. “The Governor never gets involved in Department of Labor cases,” press secretary Rachel Hoffmeyer said when contacted for comment.
The Indiana Labor Department, which oversees the state OSHA, also denied Stallone’s account of the meeting.
“The allegations are nothing short of bizarre and fantastical – in addition to being absolutely false,” the department said.
Amazon declined to comment, citing privacy concerns.
While Indiana ultimately was passed over for HQ2, a year after Terry’s death, the state signed an agreement with Amazon which said the firm had met the requirements of an “unpreventable employee misconduct defense.”