It may not have been a sound public-relations strategy for a company known for its grueling working conditions and frequent allegations of labor violations to deny one of the more memorable claims to emerge from its warehouses. But Amazon went for it anyway this week, when one of its official accounts tweeted a denial of the reporting that its drivers and fulfillment-center workers have been forced to pee in bottles in order to save time to fulfill quotas set by their managers.
“You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?” tweeted the company’s Amazon News account. “If that were true, nobody would work for us.” The denial was in response to an exchange between Wisconsin representative Marc Pocan and Amazon senior vice-president Dave Clark, who said he welcomed Bernie Sanders’s trip supporting Amazon workers’ union drive in Alabama. After Clark said that his company — known for its union-busting tactics and poor COVID protections for workers — is the “Bernie Sanders of employers,” the Democratic congressman pushed back, saying that paying workers $15 an hour “doesn’t make you a ‘progressive workplace’ when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles.”
Upon issuing the denial, the company was promptly made to smell the evidence, as several reporters covering labor conditions in Amazon warehouses shared their reporting on the practice:
The most effective example of this trend came from the Intercept’s Ken Klippenstein, who published documents proving that employees peeing in bottles was so commonplace that the $1 trillion company “frequently referenced it during meetings and in formal policy documents and emails.” One document from a Pittsburgh facility described infractions by Amazon employees, which included “public urination.” Another involved an email from the same facility in which a logistics manager wrote in May: “We understand that DA’s [driver associates] may have emergencies while on-road, and especially during COVID, DAs have struggled to find bathrooms while delivering.”
If the tweet was designed to express neutrality amid the unionization drive in Alabama — which could results in over 5,000 warehouse workers becoming the first unionized members of Amazon’s labor force of 800,000 — the Intercept report only made the situation messier. In the email provided by the Pittsburgh employee, the manager also scolded drivers for pooping in bags during their shifts: “This evening, an associate discovered human feces in an Amazon bag that was returned to station by a driver. This is the third occasion in the last two months when bags have been returned to station with poop inside.”