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Amazon denies stories of workers peeing in bottles, receives a flood of evidence in return

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There’s widespread evidence, no matter what Amazon claims

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Amazon is trying a new tactic in its endless PR battle against stories of its exhausting and exploitative working conditions: outright denial. It’s not working.

When replying to a tweet from Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) complaining about the company’s union-busting tactics and the fact that some of its workers are forced to “urinate in water bottles,” Amazon’s official Twitter account responded: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”

But people do believe these stories and for a very simple reason: there are numerous accounts of it happening, documented by employees and journalists around the world.

Indeed, after Amazon sent out its ill-judged tweet, reporters who cover the company’s labor practices practically lined up to soak the firm with evidence. These included English journalist James Bloodworth, whose 2018 book Hired: Six Months Undercover in Low-Wage Britain documented his experience of low-paid work for companies including Amazon:

Bloodworth’s book led to some of the most widely shared stories about Amazon workers being forced to pee in bottles to save time while meeting the company’s targets, but he’s far from the only one to document this exact example of poor working conditions.

Here’s Will Evans from The Center of Investigative Reporting:

And Lauren Kaori Gurley from Motherboard. (Gurley also wrote a story with photographic evidence, including numerous examples from the subreddit for Amazon delivery drivers.)

And Ken Bensinger from BuzzFeed News:

And Alex Press from Jacobin, who shares a much grimmer anecdote of an Amazon worker who suffered a seizure in one of the company’s facilities:

The Intercept added yet more evidence to the mounting case against Amazon with a new report published on Thursday detailing not only more cases of drivers urinating into bottles, but also resorting to defecating into bags. And the most damning reveal is that Amazon was made aware of this because it began reprimanding employees for the behavior when the bottles and bags were left inside Amazon delivery vehicles, The Intercept reports.

“We’ve noticed an uptick recently of all kinds of unsanitary garbage being left inside bags: used masks, gloves, bottles of urine,” reads an email from an Amazon logistics manager provided to The Intercept by a Pittsburgh area employee. “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 Tier 1 Infractions going forward. Please communicate this message to your drivers. I know if may seem obvious, or like something you shouldn’t need to coach, but please be explicit when communicating the message that they CANNOT poop, or leave bottles of urine inside bags.”

The manager also complains in the email that this the incident in question was the “3rd occasion in the last 2 months” and tries to express some sympathy that delivery drivers have struggled to find bathrooms “especially during Covid.” But The Intercept goes on to quote additional former Amazon warehouse and delivery employees who say that even when management became aware of these incidents, the package quotas and other workplace metrics did not ease and in many cases only increased over time.

Indeed, although Amazon is trying to refute stories of “peeing in bottles” that have become shorthand for the company’s poor working conditions, they’re only the tip of the iceberg.

Other evidence includes the high injury rates in Amazon warehouses (7.7 serious injuries per 100 employees); employees dying from COVID-19 after complaints the company wasn’t doing enough to mitigate risks from the virus; widespread union-busting; production targets that treat humans like robots; and gruesome anecdotes like the story of the Amazon worker who died from a heart attack and who, say colleagues, was left on the work floor for 20 minutes before receiving treatment.

Amazon denied this last story, of course, saying it responded to the man’s collapse “within minutes.” But Amazon has proven its willingness to edit reality. And if the company is happy to suggest its workers never pee in bottles despite many accounts to the contrary, it’s hard to take the company’s “truth” seriously.

Update March 25th, 5:43PM ET: Added information from The Intercept’s report on Thursday detailing further evidence of Amazon employees forced to use the restroom while on shift without taking a break and information proving Amazon managers were aware this was happening.