In anticipation of On Senator Bernie Sanders’ scheduled trip to Bessemer, Alabama, to support Amazon’s worker unionization campaign there, Amazon executive Dave Clark called the billion-dollar behemoth “the Bernie Sanders of employers. ” and mocked: “So if you want to hear about $ 15 an hour and medical attention, Senator Sanders will speak downtown. But if you want to make at least $ 15 an hour and have good health care, Amazon is hiring. “
Representative Mark Pocan responded via cheep: “Paying workers $ 15 / hour doesn’t make you a progressive workplace when you destroy a union and make workers pee in water bottles,” echoing 2018 reports that Amazon workers were forced to skip toilet breaks and urinate into bottles. From amazon denial It was quick: “You really don’t believe in peeing in bottles, do you? If that were true, no one would work for us. “
1/2 You really don’t believe about peeing in bottles, do you? If that were true, no one would work for us. The truth is, we have over a million incredible employees around the world who are proud of what they do and have great salaries and healthcare from day one.
– Amazon News (@amazonnews) March 25, 2021
But Amazon workers I spoke with said the practice was so widespread due to pressure to meet quotas that managers frequently mentioned it during meetings and in formal policy documents and emails, which were provided to The Intercept. The practice, these documents show, was known to management, who identified it as a recurring violation, but did nothing to alleviate the pressure that caused it. In some cases, employees even defecated in bags.
Amazon did not provide a statement to The Intercept prior to publication.
A January document, marked “Amazon Confidential,” details various infractions by Amazon employees, including “urinating in public” and “defecating in public.” The document was given to The Intercept by an Amazon employee in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, who, like most employees I spoke with, was granted anonymity to avoid professional retaliation.
The employee also provided an email from an Amazon fulfillment manager last May that reprimanded employees for defecating in bags. “Tonight, an associate discovered human feces in an Amazon bag that a driver returned to the station. This is the third time in the last 2 months that the bags have been returned to the station with poop inside. We understand that DA’s [driver associates] they can have emergencies while on the road, and especially during Covid, DAs have had a hard time finding toilets during labor. “
“We have recently noticed a spike in all kinds of unhealthy garbage left inside bags: used masks, gloves, urine bottles,” the email continues. “By scanning the QR code on the bag, we can easily identify the DA who was in possession of the bag last. These behaviors are unacceptable and will result in Level 1 Infractions in the future. Communicate this message to your drivers. I know it might seem obvious, or something that I shouldn’t need to train for, but be explicit when you convey the message that they CANNOT poop or leave urine bottles in the bags. “
Obtained by The Intercept
Halie Marie Brown, a 26-year-old Manteca, California resident who worked as a delivery person for an Amazon delivery contractor, Soon Express, until she resigned on March 12, told The Intercept that the practice “occurs because we are literally implicitly obliged to do so, otherwise we will end up losing our jobs due to too many ‘undelivered packages’ ”.
An email Brown received from his manager last August has a section titled “Urine Bottle” and reads, “In the morning, you need to thoroughly check your truck for trash and urine bottle. If you find bottles of urine, tell your leader, support staff, or me. Amazon will inspect the vans during interrogation, if bottles of urine are found, you will be issued a level 1 violation for immediate abandonment. “
While Amazon technically prohibits the practice (the documents characterize it as a “Level 1” violation, which employees say can lead to termination), the drivers said this was false as they would not otherwise be able to meet their dues. “They give us 30 minutes of paid breaks, but you won’t finish your job if you take it, no matter how fast it is,” a Massachusetts-based Amazon delivery employee told me.
When asked if the administration reduced fees in light of the practice, Brown said: “Not at all. In fact, over the course of the time I was there, our parcel and stop counts increased substantially. “
This has become even more intense, employees say, as Amazon has seen a huge boom in package orders during the coronavirus pandemic. Amazon employees said their performance is so closely monitored by the company’s vast arsenal of employee surveillance that they constantly fear not meeting their productivity quotas.
One email, provided to The Intercept by a Houston-based associate driver who works for an Amazon contractor, alludes to company cameras that can find workers leaving urine bottles in vans. “The data from these cameras can be sent to Amazon in the event of any incident on the road. (We have had several serious accidents, a stolen van, drivers who left urine bottles, etc. in the vans) “.
The employee said: “Every day of my shift, I have to use the bathroom in a bottle to finish my route on time. This is so common that you will often find bottles from other drivers located under truck seats. … The fact that Amazon tweeted that is hilarious. “
Public reports that Amazon employees skipped bathroom breaks originated in a 2018 book by British journalist James Bloodworth. That book, “Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain,” alleged that Amazon workers at a warehouse in Staffordshire, UK, resorted to urinating in bottles to meet production quotas. While most of the employees I spoke to were drivers delivering products, workers said the practice was common in factories as well.
The vote of Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama on the possibility of unionizing has become a tipping point for unions. While Amazon has publicly criticized Sanders, he is far from the only prominent politician voicing support for the right of employees to form a union. Last month, President Joe Biden published a video statement saying: “Every worker should have the free and fair option to join a union”, which “should be done without intimidation or threats from employers.”
The election, which ends March 29, would determine whether the more than 5,000 warehouse workers will join the Union of Retail, Wholesale and Department Stores. None of Amazon’s 800,000 employees in the United States is currently unionized.