The “peeing in bottles thing” is, in fact true, Amazon said Friday, as it issued a public apology for a tweet from its Amazon News account that suggested stories about its drivers urinating in bottles while working are bogus.
“You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us,” the company had said in that original, March 24 tweet, which was a response to a tweet from congressional Rep. Mark Pocan. Pocan’s tweet had said, “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a ‘progressive workplace’ when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles.”
After being called out about its original tweet, Amazon recanted it late Friday, saying in a blog post that the tweet was “incorrect” and that it owed an apology to Pocan.
“We know that drivers can and do have trouble finding restrooms because of traffic or sometimes rural routes,” the company said in the post, “and this has been especially the case during Covid when many public restrooms have been closed.”
The apology could signal that the company is having second thoughts about a spate of unusually aggressive tweets it fired off last month. Amazon made headlines in March with snarky tweets directed at Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. After Vermont’s Sanders said he’d travel to Alabama in the final days of a union vote at an Amazon warehouse there, the company’s chief of consumer operations fired back on Twitter.
Read more: Amazon on edge: What’s behind its snark-tweeting of Sanders and Warren
“I welcome @SenSanders to Birmingham and appreciate his push for a progressive workplace,” Amazon exec Dave Clark tweeted on March 24. “I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace.”
The testy tweets appeared as lawmakers in the US and elsewhere are investigating Amazon and other Big Tech firms over what critics have charged are anticompetitive practices. The companies face potential regulation that could force them to break up their businesses or otherwise weaken their power. Amazon is also facing the prospect of a unionized workforce amid accusations that it mistreats its workers, and critics have said the company doesn’t pay enough taxes.
Related: Amazon’s union vote: What the election at an Alabama warehouse could mean
In its apology Friday, Amazon said the bathroom-break problem affects drivers for other delivery services too, as well as drivers for ride-hailing companies. “Regardless of the fact that this is industry-wide, we would like to solve it. We don’t yet know how, but will look for solutions,” Amazon said in its post.
The company has drawn scrutiny from lawmakers and others this year over AI-equipped cameras installed in Amazon vans to monitor drivers and confirm their identities. A company program for disciplining delivery drivers, which surfaced around the time Amazon’s plans for the cameras emerged, reportedly mentioned “public urination” among actionable offenses. Some drivers have said they worry the camera program will increase pressure on them to work even faster and lead to punishment for behaviors that are hard to avoid under intense time constraints. Amazon has said the cameras are meant solely as a safety measure, with tests showing significant decreases in things like accidents and distracted driving.
More info: Amazon drivers must consent to biometric monitoring or lose jobs, reports say
In its apology post Friday, Amazon also said the original tweet “wrongly focused only on our fulfillment centers.” In 2018, an author went undercover at an Amazon fulfillment center in Britain and alleged that workers there urinated in bottles for fear that regular bathroom breaks might cost them their job. Amazon disputed that claim. In its Friday post, the company said fulfillment center workers can take bathroom breaks whenever they need to.
“A typical Amazon fulfillment center has dozens of restrooms, and employees are able to step away from their work station at any time,” the company said in the post. “If any employee in a fulfillment center has a different experience, we encourage them to speak to their manager and we’ll work to fix it.”