Amazon Is Trying to Stop a Lawsuit From Drivers Who Peed In Bottles From Going to Court

“That coffee maker that you wanted overnight costs you a couple of bucks to get it shipped,” said one plaintiff. “It costs somebody their dignity.”
Image: Bloomberg / Contributor via Getty Images

Amazon is trying to stop a class action lawsuit by a group of Colorado delivery drivers about the “inhumane” conditions they face from going to court, the drivers’ lawyers say. 

Drivers first filed the proposed class action lawsuit in Colorado in May because, they said, they have to pee in bottles and defecate in dog-waste bags, an “inhumane” consequence of Amazon's delivery performance requirements. One of the plaintiffs claimed that he had peed in a bottle “every day” working as an Amazon delivery driver. The lawsuit states that, “On a few occasions, while racing to perform deliveries and without easy access to a bottle or the ability to stop for long enough even to urinate in his van, [the plaintiff] has been on the verge of urinating and defecating in his pants.” 


Now, the company has filed a motion to compel arbitration, which would require drivers to settle their grievances with their third-party employer in a private negotiation setting instead of a courthouse. 

Amazon has in the past adamantly stated that it does not employ its drivers, who work for delivery service partners—or DSPs—despite Amazon dictating things like drivers’ delivery requirements and minimum pay rates, and surveilling them with an AI camera system in the vans. The drivers’ lawyers say that it therefore should not have the power to compel arbitration. “Amazon is trying to have it both ways, which is really bizarre,” said David Seligman, the executive director of Towards Justice, one law firm representing the drivers. 

“On the one hand, it’s saying, ‘Look, we’re not a party to these contracts. We don’t have a direct contractual relationship with these drivers,’” Seligman said. “We see that in other contexts, it’s denying its status as an employer—and yet it still is doing everything it can to control these workers. It’s this system of control without accountability.”

“Somebody just took a crap in a dog bag in the back of their van down the street from your house because you had to have that coffee pot at noon.”


Motherboard has previously reported on instances where Amazon stated it did not employ its drivers. When a group of delivery drivers unionized in Palmdale, CA earlier this year, Amazon refused to come to the table on grounds that it did not employ the drivers, but contracted them through a third party known as a delivery service partner, or DSP. It has also, however, hired union-busting consultants specifically to prevent drivers it says it does not employ from unionizing. Other companies keep a similar arms-length distance with their contractors. For example, Google has refused to bargain with its YouTube Music contract workers in the past, prompting multiple strikes. 

An Amazon spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

Plaintiffs and legal representatives met at court on Thursday to raise awareness of the proposed lawsuit.

Plaintiffs and legal representatives met at court on Thursday to raise awareness of the proposed lawsuit. Image: David Seligman.

One former driver in the class action, Ryan Schilling, is a veteran of the Iraq War. The lawsuit states that he “often found it more difficult to find time to take care of his basic human needs while working as an Amazon DSP driver in Colorado than he did while serving in active combat for the U.S. military.” 

“Good luck having the time,” Schilling told Motherboard in a phone call, in reference to taking bathroom breaks. “That coffee maker that you wanted overnight costs you a couple of bucks to get it shipped. It costs somebody their dignity."

"You have to use the bathroom, but you also have to stay on time,” Schilling said. “Somebody just took a crap in a dog bag in the back of their van down the street from your house because you had to have that coffee pot at noon. There’s a driver that’s holding their bathroom break, risking a kidney infection, because they don’t want to degrade themselves to that point. Is what you want worth somebody giving up their dignity?”


Amazon contends that because these drivers signed arbitration agreements when they took jobs at their relevant DSPs, they must now not go to court and instead settle the complaints privately. Amazon’s motion to compel, filed on November 6, states that, “The plaintiffs violated their Agreement by filing this class action lawsuit…Plaintiff’s claims arise out of and relates to their employment with their DSP employers and clients, and concern wage and hour issues, which the Agreement expressly covers.”

Amazon did not sign these agreements, which are between drivers and their DSP. However, Amazon claims in its motion that “it is entitled to enforce Plaintiffs’ agreements to arbitrate” because it is a third-party beneficiary of the agreement. The drivers’ lawyers contest this point.

The class action’s responding motion states that, “As a non-signatory, Amazon cannot enforce the Arbitration provisions…because Amazon does not have the contractual authority to compel arbitration.” 

A copy of the arbitration agreement attached to Amazon’s motion does not include mention of the company, but does include that the agreement covers “any entity formerly or currently owned, affiliated, controlled or operated by the [DSP].” It also contains a clause wherein workers waive their right to a class action against the company that employs them—namely, the DSP. 

“When it boils down to it, they don't want to be held responsible,” Schilling said. “There shouldn't be a way for companies to shirk that responsibility to ensure that the work environment is stable and not toxic. I don't mean like the boss is bad or something—a toxic work environment is somewhere where you don't feel safe taking a break. It’s where I can’t even go to the bathroom because I’m going to get fired.”

Seligman said that the issue of arbitration had to be resolved before the case could be approved as a class action lawsuit. 

“The big problem here is actually about the class action,” Seligman told Motherboard. “We've known that this is happening in Colorado for a long time, and yet people are so fearful of coming forward. If you don't have a class action, you might only get a handful of people to hold Amazon to account, and that’s not going to do much of anything at all. That is fundamentally what this fight is about—and for Amazon, it’s really important, because Amazon has maintained its power through trying to instill a culture of fear. In that context, class actions are the only way to hold the company accountable.”