Amazon has apologised to a US politician for denying that its workers are at times forced to pee in public bottles.
Mark Pocan, a member of the House of Representatives from Wisconsin, last week referenced Amazon in a tweet, saying the company makes “workers urinate in water bottles”.
Amazon’s official Twitter account responded, saying, “If that were true, nobody would work for us.”
But the company has now apologised after journalists published evidence of its delivery drivers having to urinate in bottles.
“We owe an apology to Representative Pocan,” the company said in a statement.
It said it had only been focusing on its warehouses in the tweet, and not its “large driver population”.
The company added that its warehouses have “dozens” of toilets that employees are able to visit “at any time”.
Amazon said issues with drivers being able to find a toilet whist en route was a “long-standing, industry-wide issue”.
Amazon’s remarks to Representative Pocan were part of a broader offensive against its critics in Washington as the company comes under fire for its labour practices and tax issues.
Employees at a facility in Alabama recently voted on whether to unionise, something Amazon has fended off for the most part in the US. Most of its European warehouses are unionised, however.
Representative Pocan had criticised Amazon’s efforts to block union activity at the Alabama warehouse.
“Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a ‘progressive workplace’ when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles,” Pocan wrote on Twitter last week.
Amazon’s official account responded: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”
Following Amazon’s remarks The Intercept published internal documents it said showed the company was aware its drivers at times were forced to pee in bottles.
“We know that drivers can and do have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic or sometimes rural routes, and this has been especially the case during Covid when many public restrooms have been closed,” Amazon wrote in its apology.
But others have said the issue extends to warehouse workers, including journalist James Bloodworth, who mentioned the issue in a 2018 book documenting Amazon warehouse working conditions in the UK.
Bloodworth told CBS that from his experience working undercover at an Amazon warehouse, workers were “afraid to take bathroom breaks”.
Chris Smalls, a former Amazon warehouse assistant manager who was fired in March 2020 for organising a walkout over Covid-19 safety issues, that toilets could be a five- to 10-minute walk from an employee’s workstation, making it difficult to use the toilet during a 15-minute break.
Workers “are tracked down to the second”, Smalls told CBS.
Pocan rejected Amazon’s apology in a later tweet, writing: “This is not about me, this is about your workers – who you don’t treat with enough respect or dignity.
“Start by acknowledging the inadequate working conditions you’ve created for ALL your workers, then fix that for everyone and finally, let them unionise without interference.”
A US labour agency recently found against Amazon in a dispute over two prominent internal critics the company fired last year, and the New York attorney general is investigating whether it illegally fired warehouse workers in the state who organised protests over safety during the pandemic.
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