Amazon admitted it was wrong. And in the process the company admitted that some of its workers do indeed find themselves in situation where they have to urinate in bottles. Amazon rowed back an initial denial that it gave last week when it aggressively responded to Rep. Mark Pocan on Twitter. The Democrat from Wisconsin was replying to a tweet from a top Amazon executive and said that the company can’t call itself a progressive workplace when it “union-busts and makes workers urinate in bottles.” Amazon scoffed at the claim. “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?” the company said on Twitter. “If that were true, nobody would work for us.”
Many quickly took issue with Amazon’s response. Journalists got involved and shared documents that showed how “the peeing in bottles thing” wasn’t just a rare occurrence but something that was frequently talked about by managers. Former workers also weighed in with their experiences. One person who identified herself as a former driver, for example, said she was fired for taking bathroom breaks. Vice published a story under the headline, “Amazon Denies workers Pee in Bottles. Here Are the Pee Bottles” that included photos of bottles that reportedly held the urine of Amazon workers. The Intercept devoted a piece to debunking Amazon’s claim and noted that it wasn’t just about pee. “Documents show Amazon is aware drivers pee in bottles and even defecate en route,” the Intercept reported.
Amazon admitted it was wrong to be so cavalier about the issue and publicly apologized to Pocan, claiming the initial tweet was referring to Amazon’s warehouses that have “dozens of restrooms” rather than the company’s drivers. “We 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,” the company said. Amazon went on to make clear this wasn’t an issue that Amazon suffered alone and linked to several articles about Uber, Taxi, and UPS drivers suffering the same problem. “Regardless of the fact that this is industry-wide, we would like to solve it. We don’t yet know how, but will look for solutions,” Amazon said. “We apologize to Representative Pocan,” the company’s statement ends.
Pocan proceeded to express frustration over the way the company ended its statement. “Sigh,” he tweeted. “This is not about me, this is about your workers—who you don’t treat with enough respect or dignity.” The back-and-forth with Pocan comes at a time when the company is under increasing scrutiny as it faces a huge unionization push. Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama are waiting for the results of a vote that could lead to the company’s first unionized facility in the United States.
Support work like this for just $1
Slate is covering the stories that matter to you. Become a Slate Plus member to support our work. Your first month is only $1.