Amazon’s no good, very bad PR week
Machine learning cameras in trucks, workers peeing in bottles, union-voting warehouse workers and a visit from Bernie Sanders — this has not been one of Amazon.com’s better weeks. The retail and technology giant has found itself in the headlines — not an unusual occurrence, but for a company that is a serial good news press release machine, all the unflattering coverage and negative social media pushback has got to be unsettling to management.
Vice reported that drivers making deliveries are required to sign a “biometric consent” form that gives Amazon permission to use cameras installed in the trucks to monitor their performance.
The primary purpose of the technology, according to Amazon, is to track if drivers are engaged in unsafe practices. A driver who is seen to be continually yawning, for example, could indicate fatigue and a greater risk for accidents. Many drivers see this as an intrusion, but they either sign or look for other work.
Amazon, in a rare unforced public relations error, went further down the rabbit hole over its responses to subpar working conditions.
Employees at a warehouse in Alabama are currently voting on union representation. Amazon has dismissed concerns raised by disgruntled workers and outside critics by touting its $15 an hour minimum wage and benefit programs it offers employees relative to healthcare and educational advancement.
The news this week that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I -VT) planned to visit the warehouse was not well received by Dave Clark, CEO of Amazon’s worldwide consumer business. He issued a tweet, “I often say we are the Bernie Sanders of employers, but that’s not quite right because we actually deliver a progressive workplace.”
The shade thrown by Mr. Clark at the senator was not the end of it. Rep. Mark Pocan (D – WI) tweeted a response. “Paying workers $15/hr doesn’t make you a ‘progressive workplace’ when you union-bust & make workers urinate in water bottles.”
Amazon could have, but didn’t, leave the congressman’s post alone. Instead, it tweeted. “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us.”
The company, forgetting the rule that very few tweets go unpunished, was greeted with reports by The Intercept and The Verge that provided evidence of workers urinating and (ugh) defecating on the job to avoid being disciplined for failing to meet Amazon’s productivity standards.
- Amazon Delivery Drivers Forced to Sign ‘Biometric Consent’ Form or Lose Job – Vice
- Amazon delivery drivers have to consent to AI surveillance in their vans or lose their jobs – The Verge
- Documents Show Amazon is Aware Drivers Pee in Bottles and Even Defecate En Route, Despite Company Denial – The Intercept
- Amazon denies stories of workers peeing in bottles, receives a flood of evidence in return – The Verge
- Ken Benzinger – Twitter
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is Amazon in danger of losing the public perception battle about working conditions for its warehouse employees and delivery drivers? Will there be an eventual tipping point where bad press starts to catch up with Amazon’s business?