Amazon Denies Pee Bottles A Thing, Surprising Drivers Who Have Definitely Peed In Bottles
As you probably have heard, workers at Amazon's Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse will soon be voting on whether or not to unionize, and Amazon has pulled out all the stops to discourage them from doing so. So management is none too thrilled that several Democratic politicians including President Joe Biden have voiced support for the workers looking to organize.
This week, Sen. Bernie Sanders announced that he will be going down to Alabama to meet with some of the workers.
I look forward to meeting with Amazon workers in Alabama on Friday. All I want to know is why the richest man in th… https://t.co/SMlxu6ALjb— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders)1616637125.0
Dave Clark, who is Amazon's Consumer Chief and not in fact the lead singer of a 1960s British pop band, responded to news of the visit by snarkily claiming that he calls Amazon "the Bernie Sanders of employers," noting that he considers Amazon to be even better than Bernie Sanders because they "actually deliver a progressive workplace."
1/3 I welcome @SenSanders to Birmingham and appreciate his push for a progressive workplace. I often say we are the… https://t.co/eKd6gRITBZ— Dave Clark (@Dave Clark)1616625516.0
3/3 So if you want to hear about $15 an hour and health care, Senator Sanders will be speaking downtown. But if you… https://t.co/W2ob91Rm6l— Dave Clark (@Dave Clark)1616625517.0
This would be very impressive were $15 an hour not actually on the low end of what workers in other warehouses in the area make. The New York Times reported earlier this month that "[t]he retail workers' union said it represented employees at nearby warehouses where pay is $18 to $21 an hour, including an ice cream facility and a grocery warehouse not far from Amazon."
Wisconsin Rep. Mark Pocan responded to Clark by informing him that simply paying workers $15 an hour doesn't make one a "progressive workplace" if you are union-busting and making workers pee in water bottles rather than go to the bathroom.
Paying workers $15/hr doesn't make you a "progressive workplace" when you union-bust & make workers urinate in wate… https://t.co/xbkmo5t3wl— Rep. Mark Pocan (@Rep. Mark Pocan)1616634357.0
Rather than taking the opportunity to just keep their mouth shut, whoever runs the Amazon News account chose to snidely ask "You don't really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?" as if Pocan were some kind of tin foil hat wearing QAnon kook.
@repmarkpocan 2/2 We hope you can enact policies that get other employers to offer what we already do.— Amazon News (@Amazon News)1616639370.0
The "Amazon News" account — which certainly sounds like an objective, credible news source for sure — then explained that "if that were true" no one would ever work for them. This led to many people pointing out that yesterday was the anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, a tragic event that, coincidentally, occurred due to management's desire to prevent workers from taking too many bathroom breaks. Workers were locked into the room in order to prevent them from just getting up and going to the bathroom whenever they wanted, and when the fire started, they were unable to leave. This resulted in the deaths of 146 people, mostly women, mostly recent Jewish and Italian immigrants.
Like many workers, they stayed in those jobs despite how terrible they were because they needed to survive. It was that very fire, however, that led to the Ladies Garment Workers Union agitating for better wages, better hours, and safer working conditions and to the mass unionization of factories across the country.
Unfortunately, I don't think you can look at any worker in America and say, "There's no way anyone would stay in a job where the pay was bad and working conditions sucked!" Most of us have done it at one point or another — and the reason unions are important and necessary is so that workers can push for better pay and working conditions without having to worry that doing so will cost them their means of survival.
And in the case of the pee bottles? Not only have Amazon drivers been known to contact labor reporters to talk about issues like this, it is a frequent subject of discussion on the Amazon driver subreddit, where drivers frequently post pictures of their piss bottles — or, as in one recent instance, their piss Pringles can.
Users of that subreddit were, to put it mildly, a bit chaffed by Amazon's denial of the pee bottle issue, along with other issues they face as drivers.
"you're right amazon, i don't piss in bottles! i piss in the shitty branded cup you gave me :)"
It has also been documented in several internal communiques at Amazon, as The Intercept's Ken Klippenstein reported yesterday.
Transcript via The Intercept:
This evening, an associate discovered human feces in an Amazon bag that was returned to station by a driver. This is the 3rd occasion in the last 2 months when bags have been returned to station with poop inside. We understand that DA's [driver associates] may have emergencies while on-road, and especially during Covid, DAs have struggled to find bathrooms while delivering.
We've noticed an uptick recently of all kinds of unsanitary garbage being left inside bags: used masks, gloves, bottles of urine," the email continues. "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.
Halie Marie Brown, a former delivery driver for Amazon, also told The Intercept that the reason drivers pee in bottles is because they will lose their jobs if they don't make all of their deliveries on time. She also shared an email she received from a manager regarding the practice
In the morning, you must check your van thoroughly for garbage and urine bottle. If you find urine bottle (s) please report to your lead, supporting staff or me. Vans will be inspected by Amazon during debrief, if urine bottle (s) are found, you will be issue an infraction tier 1 for immediate offboarding.
While peeing in a bottle while working is a fireable offense, workers say they have no other choice. Brown notes that not only did Amazon not respond to this issue by easing up, but that stops and package deliveries actually increased during her time there.
Amazon, clearly, does not want their workers to unionize. But instead of improving conditions and pay so that they feel less inclined to do so, they're tackling this issue by running around screaming "Everything's fine! People love it here! Pay no attention to the pee bottles behind the curtain!" as if their workers don't know what's going on. But they do. And, if enough are tired of it, they're gonna vote to unionize.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse