Amazon has apologised to a US congressman after mocking claims that its employees sometimes resorted to urinating in plastic bottles, saying its reaction had been an “own-goal” and “incorrect”.
In a tweet posted last month, Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, criticised Amazon for its union-busting efforts and record on working conditions, drawing particular attention to staff who did not have time to find and use a bathroom.
In response, Amazon tweeted: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”
It sparked a flurry of negative reaction, and several articles refuting Amazon’s position.
Most notably, The Intercept published a story detailing internal correspondence from Amazon managers concerned about workers urinating, and in some cases defecating, while out on delivery.
In a blog post Amazon said its response “did not contemplate our large driver population and instead wrongly focused only on our fulfilment centers”, indicating it believed the issue was confined to its network of delivery drivers.
“This was an own-goal,” Amazon wrote. “We’re unhappy about it, and we owe an apology to Representative Pocan.”
It said the tweet did not receive “proper scrutiny” internally, but maintained that drivers’ bathroom issues were due to “traffic or sometimes rural routes”, an issue it said had grown due to Covid-19-related closures of public restrooms.
Amazon then went on to list a number of tweets and news articles referencing the same issue involving companies such as Uber and UPS. Uber declined to comment. A UPS spokesperson could not be reached.
Amazon added: “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 apology comes as almost 6,000 Amazon workers at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, await the results of a vote on unionisation. Counting is expected to begin early next week. If the union succeeds, it will be the first time Amazon workers in the country have achieved collective bargaining power.
Supporters see the union drive, which has drawn considerable political backing, as a potential starting point for action across the ecommerce giant’s US-based workforce, which has grown rapidly during the pandemic and now numbers more than 950,000.
That figure does not include its delivery drivers, who are hired through third-party contractors. This weekend, a number of drivers have pledged to walk off the job in protest at what they see as unacceptable workloads as Amazon continues to deal with heightened pandemic demand.
“197 stops, this is ridiculous,” said one driver in a video posted to Reddit on Friday. “It’s not realistic to get this done in a reasonable amount of time. How is this safe?”
He added: “This needs to stop, we need to unionise. And by the way, yes we all pee in bottles — we have to.”
Pocan on Saturday responded to Amazon’s apology with another tweet: “This is not about me, this is about your workers — who you don’t treat with enough respect or dignity. Start by acknowledging the inadequate working conditions you’ve created for ALL your workers, then fix that for everyone & finally, let them unionise without interference.”