Amazon apologized Friday for a snide tweet it sent last week denying the well-documented occurrence of its delivery drivers peeing in bottles while on the job.
The tweet was a response to Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan of California, who first said: “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a ‘progressive workplace’ when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles.”
Amazon replied: “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”
But in an apology posted to the Amazon News site, Amazon acknowledged their tweet was “incorrect.”
“This was an own-goal, we’re unhappy about it, and we owe an apology to Representative Pocan,” the post said.
Amazon said the tweet “did not contemplate our large driver population and instead wrongly focused only on our fulfillment centers,” adding that their fulfillment centers have “dozens” of bathrooms and employees are free to use them “any time.”
It also said drivers have trouble finding restrooms due to traffic and being on rural routes, and that the issue has been exacerbated by closed public bathrooms during the pandemic.
In the apology, Amazon said it was a “long-standing, industry-wide issue and is not specific to Amazon,” but that the company will look for ways to solve it. The post also included many tweets of people saying delivery drivers who work for companies other than Amazon also pee in bottles while on the job.
The combative tweet was one of several sent by Amazon accounts ahead of the union vote.
“I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace,” said Dave Clark, the CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer unit, in response to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ plans to meet with the workers in Alabama.
The Amazon News account also lashed out at Sen. Elizabeth Warren in a tweet after she accused the company of exploiting loopholes to pay low taxes.
“You make the tax laws @SenWarren; we just follow them,” the tweet said. “If you don’t like the laws you’ve created, by all means, change them.”
The workers are also notorious for having eerily robotic speech patterns.
“I can assure you that I’m a real account,” a recent response from one such worker said. “I’m part of a program that lets me come on here & have conversations about what working for Amazon has been like for me. I’d like to know why you feel we are treated/paid bad. I’ve been so happy here & the pay/benefits are great.”
There’s a good reason for those speech patterns, according to a leaked Amazon document obtained by The Intercept. Amazon has a set of guidelines for what those employees can and cannot say, and even offers examples of how to respond.
First and foremost is that “FCAs,” or “Fulfillment Center Ambassadors,” cannot respond to anything regarding unionization, according to the document.
That’s particularly notable given this week’s unionization vote at an Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama. If it passes, it would be the first major union of Amazon workers.
Additionally, they can’t respond to direct media requests without approval from Amazon’s public relations department. They are also barred from responding to “compound” criticisms, or a tweet that also contains a topic that Amazon PR has not approved the FCAs to comment on.
The document offers an example of a tweet that FCAs should not respond to based on such criteria: “@Amazon why are you still advertising on breitbart?! Between that and barely paying your employees, I’m ready to quit shopping with you,” the example said.
Similarly enlightening, the document offers a variety of examples of the type of social media posts that FC Ambassadors should interact with – and the kind of responses the company finds appropriate.
The example response in the document reads almost exactly like some of the responses from FC Ambassadors.
“No, that’s not right,” the example says. “I worked in an Amazon FC for over four years and never saw anyone urinate in a bottle. There are easily accessible bathrooms in every one of our buildings I’ve ever been in.”
It established the foundation of the program, and its purpose: “To address speculation and false assertions in social media and online forums about the quality of the FC associate experience, we are creating a new social team staffed with active, tenured FC employees, who will be empowered to respond in polite – but blunt – ways to every untruth,” the document says.
FC Ambassadors are paid the same hourly rate they get for their warehouse work, Amazon says, and it’s an “entirely voluntary” program.
Since the program started in 2018, a variety of accounts originally associated with it have been deactivated. And in the last few weeks, a handful of new FC accounts have sprung up as reports surfaced once again of employees having to urinate in bottles to preserve work time. The vast majority of FC Ambassador replies on social media specifically address these reports.
When reached for comment, Amazon spokesperson Lisa Levandowski said: “FC Ambassadors are employees who work in our fulfillment centers and choose to share their personal experience – the FC ambassador program helps show what it’s actually like inside our fulfillment centers, along with the public tours we provide. We encourage anyone who wants to see for themselves to sign up for a tour at www.amazonfctours.com.”
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Amazon social media accounts made headlines last week for lashing out at politicians like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and even for denying claims about its working conditions that have been reported multiple times.
Apparently, it was at the request of CEO Jeff Bezos, who told company executives they weren’t doing enough to fight back against the critics, according to Vox’s Recode.
The aggressive PR strategy is playing out as 6,000 Amazon warehouse workers in Bessemer, Alabama vote over whether or not to unionize, with results expected this week. Experts told Insider’s Kate Taylor the vote could have a huge impact on Amazon as a whole and on labor in the US.
Recode reported Sunday that Bezos was unhappy with negative reports about the company he considered false or misleading and that he was specifically displeased with how company leaders were responding to them. The result seemed to be a string of combative tweets.
Insider has reached out to Amazon for comment.
On Wednesday, after Bernie Sanders announced plans to visit an Amazon warehouse in Alabama to meet with workers amid their unionization efforts, a top Amazon executive called him out in a tweet.
“I welcome @SenSanders to Birmingham and appreciate his push for a progressive workplace. I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace,” said Dave Clark, CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer unit.
He followed up the next day with another attack, asking why Sanders’ state of Vermont “only” has a minimum wage of $11.75 and that the senator “should save his finger wagging lecture until after he actually delivers in his own backyard.”
Amazon changed its minimum wage to $15 in 2018 in response to critics, which included Sanders.
Business Insider has been tracking all these trends at some of the largest PR firms including Edelman, Weber Shandwick, and Sard Verbinnen, and rounded up our coverage, including the hot practice areas that are boosting firms’ revenue, how to get hired, and compensation.
Below are resources to guide people looking to learn about the industry, grow their existing PR businesses, or break into the field.
Firms are gearing up to take share from other industries
Some firms are also gearing up to take market share from advertising and management consulting companies, arguing that they can help clients deal with crises and promote brands while people may not be receptive to traditional advertising.
Among the most aggressive in this area is Edelman, which has built a 600-person staff of creatives including adland vets like Leo Burnett’s Judy John and McCann’s Lee Maicon to expand into advertising services.
Technology is one of the most dynamic beats in journalism today, with outlets like The Washington Post expanding their tech teams and new publications like Protocol and standalone newsletters launching.
But keeping track of these journalists and what they cover is difficult for public relations pros, given how quickly coverage areas change.