‘We owe an apology’: Amazon admits drivers urinate in bottles after dismissing lawmaker’s criticism

Amid anti-union push, retail giant backtracks in public statement and shifts blame as ‘industry-wide issue’

Alex Woodward
New York
Saturday 03 April 2021 19:27 BST
Bernie Sanders rallies Amazon workers in Alabama ahead of historic union vote
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In a rare public apology, Amazon has admitted that the retail giant’s employees have urinated in bottles, after the company dismissed reporting and employee statements detailing the well-known practice among workers, facing pressure to meet Amazon’s deadlines without bathroom breaks.

But the apology was only directed at a Democratic member of Congress who confronted the company about the company’s anti-union tactics and how workers have often relied on water bottles as bathrooms.

In a tweet responding to US Rep Marc Pocan on 24 March, one of the company’s official Twitter accounts responded: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”

Amazon’s statement published late on Friday said its tweet to Mr Pocan “did not receive proper scrutiny”.

“This was an own-goal, we’re unhappy about it, and we owe an apology to Representative Pocan,” said the statement, which is attributed to Amazon Staff.

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The company statement did not apologise to workers but instead called the well-documented history of its employees using bottles and other items as bathrooms a “long-standing, industry-wide issue and is not specific to Amazon”.

“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,” the statement said. “We will continue to speak out when misrepresented, but we will also work hard to always be accurate.”

In response, Mr Pocan said: “This is not about me, this is about your workers – who you don’t treat with enough respect or dignity.”

The statement also suggested that the problem only impacts drivers, not its warehouse workers, despite reports, and explained that workers “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”.

Following the company’s tweet on 24 March, Amazon employees and journalists at several media outlets revived their previous reporting, pointed to extensive threads on social media and Reddit forums, and published grim accounts from workers (as well as photographic evidence) about workers’ bathroom complaints and workplace pressures, including Amazon’s awareness of the problems.

The company’s statements – and a PR push that includes anti-union messaging on social media from apparent Amazon employees – follow a high-stakes union vote at its sorting facility in Bessemer, Alabama, where roughly 5,800 workers have cast their votes to determine their membership in the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.

If successful, it will be the first labour union within the company’s history, and one that could reverberate at its facilities and among other corporate giants across the US.

Voting ended on 29 March, and a count is underway. Ballot disputes and legal challenges are expected.

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