After first denying the claim, Amazon issued a statement indirectly confirming that drivers who deliver for the company sometimes have to pee in bottles, but indicated that circumstance isn't unique to Amazon.
On March 24, 2021, online retail giant Amazon ensconced itself in controversy with a tweet drawing attention to reports that its workers are so pressured by time demands that they must urinate in water bottles to meet requirements.
1/2 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.
— Amazon News (@amazonnews) March 25, 2021
The tweet above was in response to a back-and-forth between U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and Amazon Worldwide Consumer CEO Dave Clark. The latter had taken a dig at U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., amid reports that Sanders planned to travel to Alabama to meet with Amazon workers in that state who are trying to join a labor union.
Paying workers $15/hr doesn't make you a "progressive workplace" when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles. https://t.co/CnFTtTKA9q
— Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) March 25, 2021
The allegation that Amazon workers are sometimes forced by the pace of their jobs to forego restroom breaks and relieve themselves in bottles isn’t a new one. Those allegations surfaced in 2018 in a book by British author James Bloodworth, who went undercover as an Amazon worker in the U.K.
In the book, “Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain,” Bloodworth reported that, “Workers who pick up products for delivery at a warehouse in Staffordshire, UK use bottles instead of the actual toilet, which is located too far away, Bloodworth reported, per technology news site The Verge. They are “afraid of being disciplined for idling and losing their jobs as a result.”
Journalists were quick to respond to Amazon’s tweet by posting images and articles that indicated workers’ inability to take time to use the bathroom was a consistent pain point.
I got photos of Amazon workers' pee bottles. They are, in fact, real. https://t.co/vYnkvf4CTm
— Lauren Kaori Gurley (@LaurenKGurley) March 25, 2021
In one case, a BuzzFeed News reporter posted an image on Twitter of an alleged written policy (provided by a former driver for a former Amazon contract driving company) that specifically mentioned “urine bottles.”
Amazon claims its workers don't pee in bottles; defenders say it's an urban legend. But these photos sent to me by a former driver for a former @amazon contractor called Synctruck in a California facility suggest strongly otherwise. https://t.co/hp4zCqOxRO pic.twitter.com/StHNvV9B1x
— Ken Bensinger (@kenbensinger) March 25, 2021
We reached out to Synctruck, the driving company, asking for more information about the above policy sheet, and will update this story if we hear back.
The ability to use to the restroom (or not) has been an ongoing issue raised by workers at Amazon facilities, even before Amazon drew attention to it with the March 24 tweet. In a survey conducted via the labor organizing platform Organise, 74% of respondents reported avoiding using the bathroom for fear of missing performance targets.
It’s also been an issue raised by Amazon workers trying to unionize in Alabama. For example, urination is raised more than once in the videos below — although we note these workers make no specific mention of urinating in bottles.
Jeff Bezos says he's proud of working conditions at Amazon. Workers say they're surveilled, treated like robots, and forced to work in a grueling and unsafe environment.
Now these warehouse workers in Alabama are organizing to demand change. pic.twitter.com/D7o97ymbLf
— More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) February 10, 2021
Amazon warehouse worker Linda Burns testified at our #MoralMonday press conference that she could be fired simply for taking a 15-minute bathroom break: “Amazon, Bezos, O. M. G.” #BAmazonUnion #UnionYes #PoorPeoplesCampaign pic.twitter.com/iAsZtZbp8D
— Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (@RevDrBarber) March 24, 2021
We reached out for comment to Amazon and Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, the union the Alabama Amazon workers are trying to join, but haven’t gotten a response.
On April 2, 2021, Amazon issued a statement about the March 24 tweet, saying that they owed Pocan an apology. The statement contained what appeared to be an acknowledgment that its drivers do indeed relieve themselves in bottles, noting, “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. This is a long-standing, industry-wide issue and is not specific to Amazon.”
The statement contained links to other stories about drivers for other companies who were forced to relieve themselves in bottles due to lack of available restrooms. We sent an email to Amazon asking what ideas are on the table, if any, to resolve the issue. We will update if we hear back.