Amazon’s media relations shop came under fire Wednesday evening over a tweet that dismissed widely substantiated reports about warehouse working conditions by asking, “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?”
Amazon immediately began trending on Twitter, as did “Amazon union.” The tweet, lambasted for dismissing reports dating back to 2018 that warehouse employees had been forced to relieve themselves in plastic bottles because of constraints on their access to toilets during shifts, was quickly ratioed. That means it got many, many more replies (over 7,500 at press time) and quote tweets (nearly 9,000) than it did likes (a little over 1,700) or plain retweets (only 388).
Users accused Amazon of “gaslighting” employees who said they had endured intolerable working conditions at the ecommerce giant’s fulfillment centers.
One popular and sarcastic tweet seized on Amazon’s claim that “nobody would work for us” if the report were true. “Yes historically nobody has tolerated working in abhorrent conditions out of desperation,” the account said.
Daily Beast reporter Jose Pagliery pointed out that he has reporting even more recent than the 2018 articles the PR shop dismissed: “Last month, Amazon delivery drivers with routes in Queens, NY told me they were, in fact, forced to pee in cups & bottles that spilled all over the truck cabin and left a smell for days.”
BuzzFeed News Ken Bensinger wrote, “Amazon claims its workers don’t pee in bottles; defenders say it’s an urban legend. But these photos sent to me by a former driver for a former @amazon contractor called Synctruck in a California facility suggest strongly otherwise.” He attached photos of documents that clearly made reference to “urine bottles” and drivers’ own responsibility to remove them from their work trucks.
A representative for Amazon did not immediately return a request for comment.
The tempest began when news broke Wednesday that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) will travel Friday to meet with Amazon workers in Alabama who are trying to unionize. Amazon executive Dave Clark tweeted that the company is progressive and implied that it gets more results than Sanders in pushing for progressive workplaces.
That’s when Rep. Mark Pocan jumped in, tweeting at Clark, “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a ‘progressive workplace’ when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles.”
Amazon News, the communications arm of the company, took over from there, and that’s when the real trouble started. “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you?” the account tweeted. “If that were true, nobody would work for us. The truth is that we have over a million incredible employees around the world who are proud of what they do, and have great wages and health care from day one.”
Political YouTuber Brian Tyler Cohen posted a poll under the tweet asking readers if they believed “the peeing in bottles thing.” Of over 127,000 respondents at press time, 84% said they did.