Do Amazon Workers Pee in Bottles?

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Do Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) workers in its U.K. warehouses pee in a bottle because they may be criticized for taking too much time off in the eyes of their supervisors? Since the report is based on the claim of one person and has not been otherwise substantiated, the answer may well be no. Rumors swirl about how Amazon treats its workers. However, it is more than worth the time to take apart the sources.

A man named James Bloodworth watched workers at an Amazon warehouse. Among his observations was that “For those of us who worked on the top floor, the closest toilets were down four flights of stairs.” The building that houses the operation is about 700,000 square feet, according to Bloodworth. It can take a long time for people to travel long distances to bathrooms.

The comments mean two things have to be true. The first is that supervisors would be severe enough as they track worker time that they would penalize people who need a bathroom break. The second is that a bottle is the best means for people to relieve themselves. While the second may be believable, the first is a stretch.

Amazon is well aware that its labor practices are carefully scrutinized because of earlier reports of worker abuse, The most prominent of these was a scathing article in The New York Times in 2015. This evaluation mostly covered low-level management staff.

Amazon also knows it is being watched by union organizers. So far, this has been a problem mostly in Italy and Germany, where workers have walked out, particularly over how rank-and-file employees are treated. Cruel treatment of workers in the United Kingdom would only make this problem worse, both in terms of public perception and the chance that warehouse employees in Britain would walk off the job as they have elsewhere.

The U.K. story is based on one source, and that source is not a well-regarded journalist or academician who can confirm the claim with more substantial truth. There have been plenty of claims about Amazon’s treatment of workers that are likely to be true. This is probably not one of them.