The tornadoes that devastated the Midwest and parts of the South this weekend were some of the deadliest on record in the US.
When one hit 2 miles from her house, Amazon worker Leslie Campbell missed her warehouse shift.
Amazon's HR team said at first it had no record of tornadoes in Kentucky and couldn't excuse her shift.
Leslie Campbell said she used to chase tornadoes as a teenager — but the storm last Friday was different.
"It became pitch white from the rain," she told Insider. "It had a weird feeling to it."
The tornadoes that ripped through the Midwest and parts of the South on Friday night were some of the deadliest on record, killing more than 70 people in Kentucky alone. One tornado landed just two miles away from Campbell's home in Taylor County, about 90 miles south of Louisville, she said.
After sheltering with her mother through the night, 33-year-old Campbell left at 4:45 a.m. for her Saturday shift at the Amazon warehouse in Campbellsville, Kentucky. She took the job as a picker in September because the early hours gave her flexibility to help her sister, a single mother.
En route, Campbell was turned back by police searching for survivors near a sheep farm destroyed by the storm, she told Insider. She stopped in a church — the only place where she could find cell service — and called Amazon's HR team known as the Employee Resource Center (ERC).
Campbell said she explained she was physically unable to make it to her shift due to tornado damage. On the other end of the line, an ERC representative told her it had no record of the twisters, she said. For Campbell, missing work put her attendance record in "negative UPT," according to screenshots viewed by Insider, a status that she said could threaten her job.
Amazon gives workers a certain amount of paid time off and unpaid time off, or UPT. Dipping into negative UPT, or taking more than the allotted UPT, can be grounds for dismissal, Campbell said. This is consistent with what Amazon employees have previously told Insider about negative UPT.
After attempting to drive to work two more times with no luck, Campbell tried reaching a company executive on Twitter.
—ʟᴇꜱʟɪᴇ ᴄᴀᴍᴘʙᴇʟʟ (@LCampbell_35) December 11, 2021
That afternoon, Amazon retail chief Dave Clark had posted a tweet acknowledging the Amazon workers killed by a tornado after their warehouse collapsed in Illinois. Six people have now been confirmed dead at that facility.
Campbell tweeted in response: "I'm an Amazon worker in Kentucky, tornado hit 2 miles from my house and I physically couldn't get to work for my shift. The ERC team told me that they had no record of tornadoes in Kentucky and couldn't help me with not getting attendance time reduced for today."
Campbell's tweet generated hundreds of responses, and among the wave of replies was one from Clark.
"Sorry Leslie I shared with the team we will get it fixed for you all," he wrote.
"I didn't really expect it to take off like it did," Campbell told Insider. "I honestly never expected him to see it."
After Clark replied, Campbell said she received a call back from the ERC, which once again told her there was no record of tornadoes in the area and advised her to bring the matter up at her next shift.
Then, she got another call.
"The person seemed very, very excited," Campbell said. An HR rep told her Amazon would excuse her Saturday shift and pay her for the 11 hours she missed.
Insider reached out to Amazon several times about Campbell's experience. A spokesperson did not respond. The company has previously said staff members are told to stay at home if they feel it's not safe to travel and can do so without fear of retribution.
Campbell said she was shocked that Amazon would give her back the time and pay her, and even repeated it back on the phone to make sure it wasn't a mistake. She "100%" believes she would have been fired if Clark didn't see her tweet, Campbell told Insider.
Despite the experience, Campbell told Insider she still wants to work at Amazon — but hopes the ERC partnership will be improved.
"It's kind of like 'Oh, we're gonna put you in a system and what the system says, you do,'" Campbell said. "The human element of it is missing, and it's sad."
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