Amazon is fast because of human beings with human needs — such as going to the bathroom. Pro-union workers in Bessemer, Alabama, complained that they didn’t always have time to use the bathroom because of Amazon’s rigorous demands on them to pack and ship orders. Drivers who deliver those orders report a similar problem: Deprived of breaks, they sometimes have to pee in bottles. Amazon recently denied this phenomenon had ever occurred until it was confronted with the evidence. The company then reversed itself, apologized, and announced it would “look for solutions.”
One driver spoke to Intelligencer about his workload, the infamous bottles of urine, the surveillance he experiences on the job, and why he supports a union. Intelligencer has changed the driver’s name to protect his identity.
I clock in around 10 a.m. When I get there, I get a bag with a key and a work phone, I get my assigned route, get a mask. We probably wait in the lot for about an hour, just waiting to load up. When it’s our turn, we pull our carts out and load up our van. And that has to happen within like 15, 20 minutes. They’re really on our case about getting that done really fast. The shifts at our station probably last anywhere from eight to ten hours. I’ve heard stories from other stations that it can last up to 12.
Amazon has some sort of computer-generated schedule for us. We were not consulted with it at all. But I’ll just be going about my day sometimes and I’ll get a text message from my dispatcher telling me that I’m five or ten stops behind. And I’m not moving slow. I’m working the whole time, and they’re telling me I’m behind. So there’s always that pressure. You fall just a little bit behind and they’re tracking you all day. They’re watching you. They will make sure that you stay on task. And ideally, they just want you to work as fast as possible. They don’t care about whether you get hurt or whether you’re being safe.
The work phone has a GPS so they know where we are. I don’t like it at all. They’re micromanaging us. It’s stressful. It gives us anxiety all day. I’m just trying to do my job, and they’ve got to treat me like a child, following me around all day, thinking I’m not doing my job sometimes. Probably with other jobs, you can kind of take a break here or there, take two minutes, look at Facebook. You take more than five minutes and they’re going to call you and say, “What’s going on?” And you need to keep going.
We have a 30-minute break. I’m pretty sure it would be illegal for them not to give us that break. But there’s no extra 15-minute breaks just for rest. Outside of that, a lot of people just eat as they go. I do the same thing. I’ll bring nuts and fruit and whatever. You eat on the go. And then, after lunch, you don’t even have a minute to rest; you just got to get right back on your route.
Everyone does that, peeing in bottles. It’s funny, I’m seeing this everywhere now. Even before Amazon, UPS is doing this, FedEx is doing this. Every truck driver is doing this. The real issue related to that is that Amazon is just driving us way too hard. They give us an unreasonable amount of stops, between 200 and 250 stops a day. And they’re driving us so hard that we don’t have time to go to the bathroom. The real issue is the excessive workload and the lack of respect. They don’t care about our livelihood. The only thing that matters is getting those packages delivered as fast as possible. It wouldn’t be hard to give us an extra one or two ten-minute breaks. They could strike a deal with certain gas-station companies and tell them that drivers have to be able to use your bathroom.
During peak season, I was doing six days a week, ten hours a day. I would just come home, eat, fall asleep, wake up, go back to work. I did that for months. There is no easy day. Even if you have a relatively small route, you still come home tired and frustrated. You know, you’re driving through traffic all day, or you’re just dealing with issues that come up on the road. There’s no one I’ve talked to who doesn’t come home very tired each day. We have to work more hours because they’re not paying us enough to live comfortably. But then, the more hours we work, obviously the more likely we are to be tired. And you don’t want to be driving tired behind the wheel.
The union vote in Bessemer pretty much happened as exactly as I expected. Corporations always use every dirty little trick they can think of to try and stifle the union vote. They do whatever they can to intimidate workers, misinform workers. I have attempted to talk to my co-workers about organizing, and I felt some pushback from, you know, my delivery-service-partner owner and from Amazon managers. Anywhere you go, it’s all the same thing. I was handing out flyers to co-workers, and an Amazon manager came out and said, “I want you to stop doing that.” I had to explain to him this was a protected act under the National Labor Relations Act. And we had to argue for about five minutes before he’d leave me alone. All it is is handing out flyers, just information from worker to worker. It’s really none of his business. But he felt obligated to come and tell me to stop doing this. What does that tell you about how he feels towards his workers?
We want to expose the truth and have people realize that there’s a very human cost to convenience, and stuff doesn’t get delivered in one day without a ton of effort from close to a million workers who work for Amazon every day.
It’s really irrelevant if what they’re paying is better than another company. The only relevant thing is, Is it going to pay my bills? I would love to see someone draw up a budget where you can live comfortably on $15 an hour. And obviously, people do it, you know, but it’s a stressful life to make ends meet like that. A lot of people I know at my delivery-service partner are working two jobs. And that’s just ridiculous because our work is worth more than that. [Editor’s note: He earns $18 an hour.]
Amazon is like any other corporation that has ever existed. It was started solely to make money. Hearing about workers’ issues doesn’t necessarily make them more money. To Amazon, it’s a waste of time. They just want to pay us as little as possible, give us the cheapest health-care plan possible; they don’t even give us a pension. They’re not going to invest in any kind of safety equipment. It’s all about just keeping costs low. And they don’t care about workers. They only care about profit.