Amazon wades into another PR fiasco after claiming its workers don’t urinate in bottles

A hot potato: Amazon’s workers say that peeing into water bottles is part and parcel of the job, yet the company insists it never happens. The retail giant got into a Twitter spat with Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan, one of many people that took issue with an executive who labeled the firm a “progressive workplace.”

The situation began with Amazon consumer chief Dave Clark trying to start an online beef with Sen. Bernie Sanders ahead of the Vermont politician’s visit to its Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse today. Sanders’ arrival comes as the fulfillment center pushes to unionize.

“I welcome @SenSanders to Birmingham and appreciate his push for a progressive workplace. I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace”, tweeted Clark. He also lauded Amazon’s “safe and inclusive work environment.”

Plenty of Twitter users called out Clark on his tweet, highlighting some of the complaints made against Amazon by its workers: firing pregnant women for taking too many bathroom breaks, aggressive anti-union measures, working conditions that are far from safe, and elevators used exclusively for products. Many also noted the numerous incidents of staff urinating in plastic bottles as they don’t have time or aren’t allowed to go to the bathroom.

Wisconsin congressman Pocan joined in. “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a “progressive workplace” when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles,” he wrote.

The Amazon News account then got involved, responding to Pocan with: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”

Amazon’s denial opened the floodgates. Author James Bloodworth, who worked undercover at the company, tweeted: “I was the person who found the pee in the bottle. Trust me, it happened.” He also cited a survey of UK-based Amazon warehouse workers that found 74% were afraid to go to the bathroom during a shift out of fear of missing productivity targets.

Elsewhere, Business Insider spoke to five current and former Amazon employees who said peeing in bottles was part of the job due to the strict time constraints placed on drivers and contract workers.

“They keep track of your movements — how many times you stop, how fast you drive,” Enrique Sanchez, who worked as a driver for eight months in 2020, told the publication. “Using the restroom in the van is the only option sometimes.”

Amazon is used to dealing with PR disasters and bad publicity at this point—the current fiasco comes soon after reports of its delivery workers being forced to agree to AI surveillance or risk losing their jobs. But with its net income jumping from $11.6 billion in 2019 to $21.33 billion last year, the all-important bottom line isn’t being affected.