Amazon has issued an apology to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) for a tweet last week that denies that it causes its workers to pee in water bottles.
The controversy began with a cheep Few criticizing Amazon for its treatment of workers, an issue of particular public concern, as workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama were voting on the possibility of unionizing.
“Paying workers $ 15 an hour does not make it a ‘progressive workplace’ when a union breaks down and causes workers to pee in water bottles,” Pocan wrote.
“You really don’t believe in peeing in bottles, do you?” Amazon responded on March 24, “If that were true, no one would work for us.”
Recode’s Jason Del Rey reports that Amazon’s aggressive response was encouraged by CEO Jeff Bezos, who had been frustrated that Amazon wasn’t pushing hard enough against its critics.
But the tweet turned into a public relations fiasco for Amazon. The next day, Vice ran a story with the headline “Amazon denies that workers pee in bottles. Here are the urine bottles.” It included a photo of bottles with urine from an Amazon worker.
Vice noted that this was a common topic of discussion on the r / AmazonDSPDrivers subreddit. There are “dozens of threads and hundreds of comments” in which drivers lament their need to urinate in bottles, hedges and other things besides a toilet.
“The tweet was wrong”
Now Amazon has changed its tune. “The tweet was wrong,” Amazon admitted on its website. “It did not look at our large driver population and instead mistakenly focused only on our fulfillment centers.”
Amazon says that “a typical Amazon distribution center has dozens of restrooms and employees can walk away from their workstation at any time.”
However, the company acknowledged that this is not always true for its delivery drivers.
“We know that drivers can have trouble finding restrooms due to 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 problem that affects the entire industry and is not specific to Amazon,” the company added. Amazon says it wants to solve the problem: “We still don’t know how, but we will find solutions.”
Amazon seems to be right on that. Drivers for Uber, Lyft, and food delivery services have reported having trouble finding restrooms while at work. Drivers for UPS and FedEx have reported similar difficulties. The problem has worsened in the last year as the pandemic has closed a large number of stores and restaurants.
Amazon has been on the defensive in recent weeks as workers at its Bessemer fulfillment center vote on creating a union. Voting closed earlier this week, but the National Labor Relations Board has yet to announce the results. The stakes are high for Amazon, as a successful vote could fuel similar efforts in other segments of Amazon’s broad workforce. Amazon has more than 1.1 million workers.