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Amazon: The Bernie Sanders of Corporations?

Amazon denies a claim that workers are not allowed bathroom breaks and are forced to pee in cups

Kris LaGrange's picture
Mar 25, 2021

With just a weekend left until all of the votes are submitted at the Amazon union vote in Bessemer Alabama, Senator Bernie Sanders is heading to Alabama to speak to the workers and make a last-minute pitch to any undecided voters. According to The Intercept, one of the reasons Sanders is heading to Bessemer is to talk to some of the younger workers at the warehouse who are still undecided about how they are going to vote.

In response to the announcement that Sanders was going to meet with the workers, Amazon’s CEO Dave Clark  sent out a tweet where he claimed that he often says Amazon is the “Bernie Sanders of employers,” before taking a swipe at the senator, saying that he is inaccurate because Amazon actually delivers a “progressive workplace.” Clark went on to tweet that Amazon pays a $15 minimum wage, provides healthcare from day one, career progression, and a safe and inclusive work environment.

In response to Clark's statement, RWDSU President Stuart Appelbaum said, "How arrogant and tone-deaf can Amazon be? Do they really believe that the wage they pay - which is below what workers in nearby unionized warehouses receive and below Alabama’s median wage- gives them the right to mistreat and dehumanize their employees,  put their workers’ health and safety in jeopardy, require them to maintain an unbearable pace which even Amazon itself admits that a quarter of their workforce won’t be able to meet, and to deny working men and women the dignity and respect they deserve If the working conditions were so great, Amazon wouldn’t have such an extraordinarily high turnover rate of over 100 percent a year at its facilities. And while we’re at it, don’t brag about your wages after cutting people’s pay by $2 an hour in the middle of a pandemic as Jeff Bezos became our nation’s biggest pandemic profiteer and accumulated inconceivable wealth?"

According to the 2019 National Council for Occupational Safety and Health (National COSH) report, Amazon had six workers die in seven month and 13 workers die since 2013. This was enough to make their Dirty Dozen list of worst employers in 2019 and they made the list again in 2020.  While a total number of Amazon worker deaths from COVID don’t seem to be available, media reports showed that by May of 2020 at least eight Amazon warehouse workers had died of COVID and by October nearly 20,000 had contracted the virus, not exactly the safe work environment that Clark wants to portray. Amazon has also gotten 106 OSHA violations and paid over $94 million in fines since 2000.

Amazon’s social media team also took to Twitter to fight with Congressman Mark Pocan who called out the company for claiming to have a “progressive workplace” saying that a $15/hr minimum wage doesn’t make you a progressive workplace when you union-bust and make workers urinate in a water bottles. Amazon’s social media team clapped back saying that the allegation that their workers are peeing in water bottles is not true.

However, it has been well documented that Amazon delivery drivers routinely are forced to use water bottles or coffee cups to relieve themselves when they are on the road. Amazon drivers are expected to deliver 300 packages in a 10-hour shift and if they take too long they can be written up or fired. According to VICE, when they speak to delivery drivers the lack of bathroom access is the most universal concern voiced.

"We’re pressured to get these routes done before nighttime 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."

"[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."

Further proof is found in the Amazon Drivers Subreddit, where posts going back years talk about peeing into bottles, hedges on the side of the road, and into garbage bags. Considering that Amazon has a whole team that monitors workers social media, company pages and subreddits, it seems unlikely that the company didn’t know about this practice.

The lack of bathroom breaks was also one of the things that workers in Bessemer complained about.

The issue of bathroom access is becoming a larger workplace issue with the move to gig work, especially for low wage workers. Drivers at Uber and Lyft, or delivery workers at companies like Doordash or Uber Eats routinely face this issue as well, and it has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic as more restaurants and fast food establishments have sought to limit who can use the bathroom.

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