Amazon's PR team is beefing with a Wisconsin congressman about the company's labor conditions, among them whether its workers pee in bottles.
On Wednesday evening, Wisconsin representative Mark Pocan called out the tech behemoth for its well-documented labor abuses in a tweet: "Paying workers $15/hr doesn't make you a 'progressive workplace' when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles."
In response, @AmazonNews, the company's official news account countered, "You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us."
But the fact that Amazon delivery drivers pee in bottles and coffee cups in their vans is not invented. It has been well-documented, and is a huge talking point among many delivery drivers. It is one of the most universal concerns voiced by the many Amazon delivery drivers around the country that Motherboard has interviewed. Delivery workers, who drive Amazon emblazoned vans, often deliver up to 300 packages a day on a 10 hour shift. If they take too long, they can be written up and fired. So spending time locating and using a bathroom is not always an option.
In fact, here’s a photo of an Amazon delivery driver’s pee bottles. Motherboard confirmed the driver’s position and employment.
"We’re pressured to get these routes done before night time and having to find a restroom would mean driving an extra 10 minutes off path to find one," an Amazon delivery driver told Motherboard. "Ten to fifteen minutes to find a bathroom can add up, meaning 20 to 30 minutes there and back all together."
"Obviously we drink a lot of water throughout the day so this is happening a lot through the drive," they continued. "I can tell you that if I drove to find a restroom that I would be bringing back packages every night and that would eventually mean I would get infractions, which would lead to termination."
"[I usually do it] in a bottle...in the back of the van away from any packages and clean my hands with sanitizer because I understand how gross it is," they continued. "I just park off to the side and close the front sliding door."
"All the guys do it," another Amazon driver in Florida who pees in coffee cups told Motherboard. "The best drivers get overtime so there’s incentive to cut corners. The most productive drivers get rewarded the most hours."
Peeing in bottles and bushes is a common talking point and meme in the r/AmazonDSPDrivers subreddit. Amazon's tweet was shared there with the title Pants. On. Fire. Commenters in the thread suggested that they begin to tweet photos of their pee bottles. A little over two weeks ago, someone on the subreddit posted a photo of a case of water bottles: "Hey, at least they supply us with bathrooms!," the caption read. A post from a year ago titled "Y'all really piss in bottles?" was filled with comments of people stating that they do, indeed, piss in bottles. And garbage bags. And in hedges on the side of the road. Another post was about drivers peeing in hand sanitizer canisters. There are dozens of threads and hundreds of comments about the topic on the subreddit. Motherboard's previous reporting shows that Amazon has entire teams of people who monitor subreddits and Facebook pages used by their employees and contractors.
Over the last year or so many people have posted pictures of pee bottles, cups, etc. that they say they have left or have found in their delivery trucks. Here are just a few:
Amazon's tweets with Pocan come during the first union election at an Amazon warehouse in the United States, at a facility in Bessemer, Alabama, that has put Amazon's labor record in the national spotlight. Amazon has argued that it already provides all of the benefits and perks unions offer, touting its $15 an hour starting wage, and has embarked on a campaign to derail the union drive. Earlier on Wednesday, an Amazon executive, David Clark, tweeted that Amazon is "the Bernie Sanders of employers," after Sanders announced that he'd be visiting Alabama on Friday to support unionizing Amazon workers.
It's also clear Amazon also knows that its drivers often have nowhere to pee, which is documented in internal policies. In February, the company released a new set of disciplinary guidelines that indicates that its delivery drivers will be terminated for "public urination, public defecation, and public indecency."
Last night, one driver posted on Reddit about Amazon's denial that its workforce pees in bottles. "We should all tweet pictures of our piss bottles to Amazon."
"I’ve peed in a Clorox wipe bottle before," another driver posted.
"I had to pee in a coffee cup on shift a couple times instead of trying to find a bathroom...us girls can't exactly piss in a bottle," another driver posted.
Other Amazon drivers, who work in rural areas, find places to relieve themselves in nature. "I was finding a tree everyday, three times a day, to pee," a former Amazon delivery driver in Washington state told Motherboard. "I have not seen anyone get in trouble for it, but you can get terminated."
It's not just delivery drivers. In Bessemer not having ample time to use the bathroom because of the company's productivity quotas and disciplinary system has been a key concern of unionizing workers.
"You're sitting there and you have to go take a piss, but you don't want to rack up 'time off task'," Catherine Highsmith, an Amazon warehouse worker in Bessemer, Alabama, recently told Motherboard. "So you're like man, if I just hold it for another hour, I can go to the bathroom."
"If you go to the bathroom a normal amount... it starts becoming a problem," she continued. "We can be written up, you can be fired." While peeing in bottles is less common at Amazon warehouses, that too has been documented in the United Kingdom.
We’re collecting photo evidence of Amazon workers’ pee bottles. If you have had to pee in a bottle or other inconvenient place while working at Amazon, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or message us securely on Signal 201-897-2109.
Not having bathroom access isn't unique to Amazon's delivery drivers, but a widespread problem across low-wage delivery jobs, particularly for workers in the gig economy who are independent contractors and don't have the benefits of traditional employment. Uber and Lyft drivers and DoorDash and UberEats couriers say they too pee in bottles, because restaurants and other businesses won't let them use their bathrooms.