labor ‘She-Wees’ and Plastic Bags: Amazon’s Pee Scandal is Much Worse for Women
Last week, as part of a public relations attempt to combat negative media coverage amid a high-stakes union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, the company's official "Amazon News" Twitter account defended its working conditions. "You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us," it tweeted.
In recent days, Motherboard has received an outpouring of emails, texts, calls from incredulous current and former Amazon delivery drivers, a law firm, and the owner of an Amazon delivery company, taking offense to Amazon's claim that drivers don't pee in bottles. Motherboard put together the collage of pee bottles, cups, and bags you see above from photos we were sent over the last few days. Motherboard confirmed the employment of each driver who sent us a photo.
For them, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Women drivers say the job is especially challenging and demoralizing because of the lack of accommodations for bathroom use.
Motherboard spoke to six women who have driven Amazon delivery vans during the past year. Some fast during work hours, even in the heat of the summer, to avoid wasting time finding a bathroom. Others either hold their pee for up to 10 hours, squat over trash bags, or purchase "she-wees," female urinals that cost roughly $13.99, on Amazon.com.
An Amazon delivery driver trainer who works out of an Amazon warehouse in South Bend, Indiana, told Motherboard that drivers frequently dump bags or bottles with pee and poop on the side of the road. "I am a trainer for my [delivery company] and I tell all the new girls to invest in a she wee or you will not make it at this job," she said. Motherboard granted the driver anonymity because she feared retaliation from her employer.
"I’ve held my pee so much. Sometimes I had to wait so long I felt ill," said a pregnant Amazon delivery driver who is employed by an Amazon delivery company near Asheville, North Carolina.
Heather Frakes, a 45-year-old former Amazon delivery driver in Fort Worth, Texas, who quit in October, told Motherboard that she never felt comfortable peeing in the back of her van, so she'd hold her pee and refrain from drinking or eating during her 10-hour routes.
"On the pain scale it’s about four," Frakes said. "But on a mental level, it's 'I cannot believe I can’t do this normal human function.' It got so overwhelming."
Another woman delivery driver who worked at DRT4, an Amazon delivery station in Mills River, North Carolina told Motherboard that she recently resigned because the dehydration from fasting during her shift was too hard on her body.
"I got a lot of routes in the mountains so I opened a black trash bag in the back of the van, and pee over that," she said. "I'm dehydrated and exhausted and that's led to my resignation. People are killing their bodies to keep up with the demand and it has to stop."
Because Amazon's productivity quotas are so high and don't allow for real breaks, drivers say also they pee in coffee cups, hand sanitizer canisters, and garbage bags. Others have peed and pooped in their clothing. Others still have been fired for peeing in bottles and suburban neighborhoods.
"I've spoken to 40-50 Amazon delivery drivers in south Florida. If drivers leave their routes and go to a Burger King or McDonald's to go to the bathroom, that could cost 40 minutes around here," said Jaime Palma, a case manager, at the Palma Law group, which represents Amazon delivery drivers in wage theft cases. "If they don't meet their quotas, they get suspended or fired for it, so they can't use the bathroom."
One driver relieved herself in the bushes in a residential neighborhood, was caught on a customer's surveillance camera and fired for it, according to Palma, the legal case manager.
Some Amazon delivery companies fire workers for leaving pee bottles in their vans.
"Urine bottle in van 348," an Amazon delivery driver posted in an internal chat for a last-mile delivery company that operates out of an Amazon warehouse in Buffalo, New York, on March 16, according to a screenshot obtained by Motherboard.
"Thank you for letting me know. Zero tolerance for that," the owner of the delivery company, wrote back. Other Amazon drivers responded with green vomiting emojis.
"Basically if someone finds a bottle, the last person who drove the van will be fired," said a driver at the Buffalo facility. "You’re not supposed to be doing it all, but people don’t talk about what you’re supposed to do."
Experiences differ by Amazon delivery company and region, but the consensus is that Amazon's productivity quotas—which can add up to 400 packages and 200 stops on a 10 hour shift—do not give drivers leeway to use the bathroom. Many drivers say they work through 30-minute unpaid lunch breaks and paid 15 minute breaks, in many cases mandated by state law. Although some Amazon delivery companies do promise job applicants that they'll have time to use the bathroom—drivers say this is a false promise.
A trip to the bathroom could push drivers into "the red," or below their expected productivity rate on Amazon's delivery tracking website, Cortex, which monitors driver productivity on a graph. Falling "into the red" in turn could result in drivers receiving fewer routes, write-ups, and eventually termination, many drivers say. At some Amazon warehouses that have rolled out a new graveyard shift in recent months called "megacycle,"delivery drivers say their quotas have increased.
To be fair, lack of access to bathrooms is also a major problem for UPS and other delivery drivers. But what frustrates drivers the most is that Amazon has repeatedly faced lawsuits for refusing to grant workers ample break time and is now denying the reality that many of its workers pee everyday in their vans, in bottles, and outdoors to keep up with the company's productivity requirements, and can be fired for it.
Amazon currently faces a rash of lawsuits, alleging the company fails to provide mandated breaks, overtime and minimum wage pay in the push to squeeze productivity out of drivers. In recent weeks, Amazon delivery drivers in California have won $6.4 million in settlement fees for related wage theft violations. Similarly, Amazon delivery drivers in Seattle have won a $8.2 million settlement in Seattle for not offering drivers breaks, pending court approval.