E-commerce behemoth, Amazon, which has been aggressively defending itself against tweets by lawmakers and critics in the USA on its working conditions, had to back down and apologise for dismissing a tweet that had claimed their drivers were sometimes forced to urinate in plastic bottles during delivery rounds due to the demands of their job.
It was a tweet by Democrat Mark Pocan that triggered this entire issue, which has snowballed into a controversy, with Amazon first denying the charge made by Pocan and then coming forward to issue an apology. It may be pertinent to note that Amazon is in the middle of strongly fighting efforts by the workers of their Alabama warehouse to unionise.
On March 25, Mark Pocan, who is supporting the unionisation efforts of 5,800 workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer Alabama, condemned Amazon’s working conditions and union-busting efforts in a tweet. He said that paying workers $15/hr doesn’t automatically make Amazon a ‘progressive workplace’, especially when they indulged in “union-bust and make workers urinate in water bottles”.
Amazon’s official twitter account responded with disbelief stating, “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us”. And went on to add that their “over million incredible employees around the world have great wages and health care from day one”.
However, a defiant Amazon was caught on the backfoot when several media published stories quoting Amazon employees that they had no choice but to use plastic bottles. The workers were only echoing what many Amazon employees had said in the past about the gruelling working conditions in the company.
A website called Intercept too wrote a detailed story on how Amazon managers had frequently brought up this issue in meetings, company policy documents and emails about workers urinating while on delivery. Documents show Amazon was aware that their drivers peed in bottles and even defecated en route, said the website.
Amazon then quickly came out with a statement describing its earlier tweet as “own-goal” because it had not accounted for the company’s sizable driver population and instead had focused on employees working its fulfillment centers. “We’re unhappy about it, and we owe an apology to Representative Pocan,” read the statement on their website.
According to them their fulfilment centres or their warehouses where goods are sorted and packaged to be sent to customers, had dozens of restrooms that employees could use “at any time.” Employees are able to step away from their work station at any time, their statement read.
However, Amazon admitted that their drivers “can and do have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic or sometimes rural routes”, and this was true especially since many public restrooms were closed during Covid. The company further admitted that this was “a long-standing, industry-wide issue,” and they would like to solve it.
However, the apology failed to placate Pocan, who tweeted to their response on Saturday (March 3) stating that this was not about him and it was about their workers, who Amazon was not treating with enough respect or dignity. He also castigated them and said that they should acknowledge the “inadequate working conditions” that they offered all their workers and to fix the problem. And, ended the tweet by asking Amazon to allow their employees to unionise if they so wished.
Amazon, which insists that its workers enjoy good pay and benefits by US standards, has been resisting efforts by its workers to unionise in the USA. Yet, its facilities in Europe are unionised. The crucial results of the voting held by the Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, have to be counted and are eagerly awaited.