Amazon Drivers Sue Over Bathroom Breaks

‘I knew that if I tried to stop to go to a gas station, I’d get yelled at and maybe lose my job,’ one driver says.

AP/Mark Lennihan, file
Amazon offices at New York in 2019. AP/Mark Lennihan, file

In Colorado, Amazon delivery drivers are bringing what may be a landmark suit against the corporate giant, alleging that Amazon’s aggressive delivery deadlines don’t allow for needed bathroom breaks, forcing drivers into the degrading position of having to perform their excretory functions inside their delivery vehicles. Analysts say the case could set a precedent for Amazon’s liability level in how it treats its contractors.

The suit, brought in the district court in Denver, alleges that drivers find themselves forced to urinate in bottles and defecate in dog waste bags inside their Amazon delivery vehicles in order to meet their delivery schedules and avoid discipline by management. 

The suit states that the company maintains policies that “require its delivery drivers in Colorado to urinate in bottles in the back of delivery vans, defecate in bags, and, in many cases, to restrain themselves from using the bathroom at risk of serious health consequences.”

“Amazon operates this scheme through harsh work quotas and elaborate tracking and workplace surveillance technology that make it impossible for Amazon delivery drivers to fulfill basic human needs while on the job,” the suit states.

In some places, the issue of urine bottles has even become a problem for the environment as so-called trucker bombs have become increasingly common on roadsides. Sealed bottles of urine thrown out of vehicle windows onto roadsides can overheat and explode, posing a hazard to pedestrians. It’s especially a problem during the summer months.

The drivers that brought the case also allege that the company’s policies violate a state law that requires employers to provide employees with paid breaks every four hours.

One of the drivers who brought the case, Ryan Schilling, an Iraq War veteran, said, “I had an easier time going to the bathroom in a combat zone than I did while working for Amazon.”

“Twice I’ve had to defecate so badly that I’ve had to use dog waste bags in the back of delivery vans. I knew that if I tried to stop to go to a gas station, I’d get yelled at and maybe lose my job,” Mr. Schilling said in a statement. “What choice do Amazon drivers have?”

Another driver involved in the case, Leah Cross, said in a statement: “When I worked for Amazon, I had to bring a change of clothes in case I peed my pants while trying to hit Amazon’s delivery metrics.”

“As a woman, I can’t just easily pee in a bottle,” Ms. Cross said. “I was told I couldn’t even stop to pick up some sanitary products. With this lawsuit, I’m fighting for Amazon to treat humans like humans.”

The drivers suing Amazon are asking for unpaid wages, damages, and legal costs as well as class-action status for all Amazon delivery drivers in Colorado dating back to 2017.

Amazon maintains that it is not responsible for the problems that these drivers experienced because the drivers are contracted through “Delivery Service Partners.”

An Amazon spokesman, Simone Griffin, tells the Sun, “We want to make it clear that we encourage our Delivery Service Partners to support their drivers.”

“That includes giving drivers the time they need for breaks in between stops, providing a list within the Amazon Delivery app of nearby restroom facilities and gas stations, and building in time on routes to use the restroom or take longer breaks,” Mr. Griffin said.

The drivers are being represented by attorneys affiliated with Towards Justice, a nonprofit law firm that “represents workers in litigation and other advocacy in an effort to build worker power and advance economic justice in our home state of Colorado and across the country.”

“A lot of us use Amazon because it’s so convenient,” attorney Valerie Collins told CPR News. “This case is really important because it shows there’s a real human cost to that.” 

The suit is only the latest in a salvo of litigation against companies that rely on gig-style contracting, like DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber, by those who actually do the driving and deliveries.

A 2022 lawsuit in Massachusetts saw delivery drivers for DoorDash win a complaint in which they alleged they were misclassified as independent contractors when they should have been classified as employees. 

In this suit, drivers were awarded entitlement to be reimbursed for gas and vehicle mileage and won the guarantee of a minimum wage of $13 per hour.

A similar 2018 lawsuit in California saw delivery drivers win recognition as employees rather than independent contractors. As with these lawsuits, the Amazon suit hinges on whether Amazon should categorize drivers as employees and if it is responsible for their working conditions.

The New York Sun

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