Amazon Mumbles ‘Sorry’ for Denying Its Workers Pee in Bottles


A courier unloads Amazon packages during a delivery on June 18, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.

A courier unloads Amazon packages during a delivery on June 18, 2020 in Berlin, Germany.
Photo: Sean Gallup (Getty Images)

After lying about the fact that some of its workers are under so much pressure that they are forced to relieve themselves in bottles in order to meet their quotas, Amazon has quietly said it’s sorry in its own very weird way and acknowledged that drivers do in fact do this. It then promptly pointed the finger at other companies like UPS and Uber and said drivers at those companies do it, too.

In a news article posted late on the Friday before Easter, Amazon apologized to Democratic Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan, who it fought with in a bonkers Twitter blowup last week over the peeing in bottles issue. Pocan was commenting on another random, aggressive response from Amazon retail chief Dave Clark, who was fighting with Sen. Bernie Sanders for not being progressive enough.

“Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a ‘progressive workplace’ when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles,” Pocan tweeted at the time.

And then, despite the fact that there is ample evidence that the company’s workers are unfortunately placed in situations that make them pee in bottles, Amazon exploded and decided to lie. (In case you were wondering, a Recode report states that the company’s aggressive communications moves came after CEO Jeff Bezos expressed his dissatisfaction that Amazon officials weren’t pushing back hard enough against “inaccurate” or “misleading” criticisms).

“You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us. The truth is that we have over a million incredible employees around the world who are proud of what they do, and have great wages and health care from day one,” the Amazon News account tweeted back at Pocan. “We hope you can enact policies that get other employers to offer what we already do.”

The e-commerce giant’s response baffled the internet and didn’t earn it a lot of fans. After sitting on that for a few days, Amazon apparently determined that it wasn’t the company’s finest moment.

In the news article, Amazon said that its tweet in response to Pocan had been “incorrect” and did not contemplate its large driver population, instead focusing only on employees at its fulfillment centers. The company also added that the tweet did not receive “proper scrutiny,” and didn’t hold up to its accuracy standards.

Both points are debatable. It should be said that employees at fulfillment centers don’t exactly have it easy to go to the bathroom, either. Employees at fulfillment centers have reported frequently holding their pee to avoid spending “time off task,” which some workers say can lead to disciplinary action and even termination, per Motherboard.

Amazon denies this, though, saying that in its fulfillment centers employees can go to the bathroom at any time. Considering that some employees claim they don’t even get meal or rest breaks because of the amount of work the company piles on them, that claim is a bit hard to believe.

Now, here’s where Amazon acknowledged the problem facing its drivers on the road that forces them to pee in bottles, but doesn’t recognize its role in this at all, instead choosing to attribute this to traffic, rural routes, and the pandemic. Yet, there was nothing in the company’s statement about the workload it puts on its drivers—Motherboard states drivers often deliver 300 packages a day on a 10-hour shift—and the consequences they face, including disciplinary action and termination, if they don’t meet their productivity quotas.

“[W]e know that drivers can and do have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic or sometimes rural routes, and this has been especially the case during Covid when many public restrooms have been closed,” Amazon wrote. “This is a long-standing, industry-wide issue and is not specific to Amazon.”

The company added that although this was an industry-wide problem, it wanted to solve it, but didn’t know how to yet.

As if denying any responsibility wasn’t enough, Amazon then goes on to point the finger at other companies, such as Uber and UPS, whose drivers have also apparently had relieve themselves in bottles or other containers. It includes links to nine links to stories from other news outlets, and even the Pew Charitable Trust, about Uber, UPS, and other companies and embeds a handful of tweets from people sympathetic to its plight.

Honestly, it’s just not a classy move from Amazon here. These companies are under the spotlight right now because of a tweet war they started (yet, who knows what the future holds). And if this is supposed to be an apology, it doesn’t exactly make sense to start saying, “Well other companies do it, too,” instead of owning up to your mistakes. This is not to say that these companies don’t deserve scrutiny, however.

But the biggest fail of Amazon’s weird apology was probably the people that it didn’t apologize to: its workers that are forced to relieve themselves in bottles, and frankly any other thing that isn’t a proper restroom. These are the people who deprive themselves of food and water while driving for Amazon to avoid going to the bathroom, these are the people who are forced to pee and poop in extreme conditions, these are people who accept being treated with less dignity because of fear of losing their jobs. It’s a fear Amazon has created.

These are the people who deserved an apology. Pocan, the person who actually received it, issued the same call in a Twitter post on Saturday.

“Sigh. This is not about me, this is about your workers—who you don’t treat with enough respect or dignity,” he wrote. “Start by acknowledging the inadequate working conditions you’ve created for ALL your workers, then fix that for everyone & finally, let them unionize without interference.”

You can read Amazon’s full apology here.


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