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Amazon tells Sanders and Warren that warehouse workers can pee whenever they want

In a response to 15 US senators, Amazon defended its warehouse working conditions.

A woman works at a giant Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York.
Jason Del Rey has been a business journalist for 15 years and has covered Amazon, Walmart, and the e-commerce industry for the last decade. He was a senior correspondent at Vox.

Amazon stayed on the defensive in a response to United States senators about its warehouse working conditions on Friday, disputing claims that its workers can’t take bathroom breaks when they need to and calling on politicians who haven’t visited an Amazon fulfillment center to take the company up on its offer of a tour.

Amazon also said it is “exploring the best way to make information about Amazon’s safety record public,” but argued that worker injury records submitted to the US Department of Labor contain “private and sensitive” details such as worker names and injury descriptions that are treated as confidential.

The eight-page response was sent on Friday to a group of 15 Democratic US senators, including Tammy Baldwin (WI) and Sherrod Brown (OH), as well as presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Two weeks earlier, the senators warned Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos in a letter to overhaul an alleged “profit-at-all-costs culture” that they say manifests itself in a punishing work environment for the hundreds of thousands of workers responsible for sorting, packing, and shipping customer orders. But this response letter, signed by Amazon policy executive Brian Huseman, will likely do little to squelch protest from worker activists and some progressive politicians who say worker complaints and injury rates speak for themselves.

Chief among the allegations Amazon faces is that the pace of work inside Amazon warehouses is so intense that some workers relieve themselves in bottles so that their performance doesn’t suffer. To address the allegations, the senators had asked Amazon to “cease including bathroom breaks as a ‘time off task.’” In its response, Amazon said that workers “are allowed and encouraged to take breaks as needed, in addition to their traditional breaks during a shift ... including time spent using the restroom.”

“If there are instances where our leaders cannot account for the whereabouts of an associate for a significant amount of time (‘time off task’), managers speak with the associate to understand if there are any issues that can be addressed by the leadership team (such as defective equipment or process defects),” the letter went on. “If the reason behind the ‘time off task’ is related to bathroom breaks, it is excused.”

The company also continued to maintain that injury rates of its workers are higher than the industry average because the company is more aggressive than its peers in recording injuries on the job.

“In 2016,” the letter read, “we decided to change our approach to recordkeeping and design a system that reported all injuries — no matter the severity — to remove elements of subjectivity and provide the data needed to drive comprehensive safety improvements.”

No word yet on a response from the senators.

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