Amazon Has an Overflow Problem

Last month, Amazon’s official news account replied to a tweet by Rep. Mark Pocan that criticized the company’s conditions, writing, “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.” Yes, you read that correctly. With millions of packages to deliver everyday, Amazon drivers have severely large quotas to meet. When you are out on the highways all day transporting hundreds of boxes, you simply need to go. However, pulling over to the nearest service area to take a break could mean falling short of those quotas, and with just a few infractions for doing a worker potentially could be fired.

So, was Amazon telling the truth about this whole “peeing in the bottles thing” in their tweet? Not only were they not telling the truth—they were knowingly spreading a falsity. This saga has its roots in a 2018 survey conducted by investigative reporter James Bloodworth, which showed that 74% of Amazon warehouse workers feared using the bathroom while working so that they could meet their daily productivity targets. Of course, Amazon swiftly dismissed this exposé.

Amazon’s most recent round of boxing this claim had a different result. Reporters at VICE News promptly debunked their lie. Contributor Lauren Kaori Gurley went as far as releasing photos sent by verified Amazon workers of bottles that they had to fill with you-know-what while on their shift. The affirmations did not end there. A leaked document revealed that not only do workers use bottles as bathrooms, but that Amazon is fully aware of it and does not intend to take any preventative measures. The letter, penned by On-Road Area Manager Jen Snyder, inadvertently uncovered the company’s coercive practices, writing, “We’ve noticed an uptick recently of all kinds of unsanitary garbage being left inside bags [including] bottles of urine… I know it may seem obvious… but you CANNOT poop, or leave bottles of urine inside bags.” The manager added in the warning that further instances will result in a “Tier 1 Infraction.. There were dozens of other subsequent confirmations, but the repressive and threatening nature of Amazon’s tactics has been duly evidenced. 

For Amazon, it’s not enough that laborers have to endure these grotesque conditions, they want employees to feel ashamed of it, and to blame themselves instead of the company’s framework.”

The real issue: Amazon’s self-perceived immunity to being held liable. They already get away with paying $0 in federal income taxes, but as they demonstrated in this scenario, they seek to expand this evasion of accountability to the social sphere. The company is well aware of the structure of manufactured consent, so much so that they believed the voices of their own workers were so unlikely to be heard that they spread a brazen lie about something that could be disproven by personal anecdotes. When Amazon is confronted by journalists about their hegemonic workplace, do they see it as an opportunity to readjust? Of course not. They see it as an open door for more authority and chastisement. Amazon’s “if that were true, nobody would work for us” tweet tells you everything you need to know about free-market fundamentalism: capitalists see employment as a purely voluntary agreement, ignoring the reality that people take jobs because they need to survive, not because they extract enjoyment from it. Amazon’s punishments do not stem from their workers relieving themselves in bags and bottles, but from the fact that they are not covering it up. 

For Amazon, it’s not enough that laborers have to endure these grotesque conditions, they want employees to feel ashamed of it, and to blame themselves instead of the company’s framework. An appropriate analogy to Amazon’s pathetic tweet would be a climate change skeptic saying “if sea levels rise, then people should just sell their homes and move.”