Amazon delivery drivers in Colorado peed in bottles, pooped in bags to keep jobs, lawsuit says

Jim Hill/CPR News
The Amazon fulfillment center in Thornton, Colo.

Ryan Schilling spent eight years in the U.S. Army serving in combat zones during the Iraq War. After he left the service and moved to Aurora in 2018, he applied for a job as an Amazon delivery driver. 

Within a few weeks of training and starting the job, he found himself overwhelmed with the demands. During his busiest shifts, he was required to make over 200 stops a day, delivering upwards of 500 packages to customers’ doorsteps. 

Along the way, he barely had time to use the restroom or take his state-mandated 10-minute rest break every four hours, he said in an interview. He often skipped lunch to keep up with Amazon’s performance metrics.

“The speed you have to complete your route on time is, for most people, inhuman,” Schilling, 28, said. 

To avoid falling behind, Schilling would pack plastic water bottles to urinate in during his shift. On more than one occasion, he pooped into a doggie waste bag in the back of his truck. 

The conditions reminded him of how he had to get by while in the armed forces.

“We’re not in a combat zone,” Schilling said. “There’s no reason I should be having to do the same things in a regular place of employment in the United States.”

Schilling, along with two other current and former Amazon delivery drivers, filed a proposed class action lawsuit against the tech giant in Denver District Court on Monday, alleging the company’s breakneck work pace and driver tracking technology prevents workers from taking state-required rest breaks. 

Workers can’t take time to find public restrooms on their routes without facing admonishment from higher-ups or disciplinary actions, according to the lawsuit. Trash cans in Amazon fulfillment centers are frequently overflowing with bottles of urine that drivers have thrown away at the end of their shifts, it alleges. 

On top of violating Colorado labor laws, the company’s workplace policies and demands deprive drivers of basic human needs, said David Seligman, executive director of Towards Justice, the Denver-based legal organization representing the drivers alongside two out-of-state law firms. 

“In order to deliver packages for Amazon, you have to pee in bottles,” said Seligman. 

The case, one of the largest of its kind according to the filing attorneys, also alleges that Amazon’s workplace policies and practices discriminate against women and transgender people. It proposes a class action suit to compensate Colorado workers for missed break time and unequal burdens placed on those workers, along with a request for Amazon to change its workplace policies. 

Amazon declined to comment on the specific allegations in the case. The Seattle-based tech company employs thousands of drivers in Colorado, mainly through third-party delivery companies referred to as Delivery Service Providers (DSPs), which operate under various business names. 

“We want to make it clear that we encourage our DSPs to support their drivers,” said  Sam Stephenson, a spokesman for Amazon. 

“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,” Stephenson said. 

In order to fulfill customer orders efficiently and quickly, Amazon uses GPS tracking, surveillance cameras and its driver app to keep DSP companies and employees in line with Amazon’s assigned timeframe, according to the lawsuit. Any diversions from a driver’s route are instantly recorded by the company’s artificial intelligence programs. 

Schilling said he regularly received texts from his DSP’s dispatch operators when he fell behind on Amazon’s delivery timeframe. The messages would urge him to speed up, even when he tried to take one of his state-required rest breaks, the complaint states. 

He eventually suffered an on-the-job injury and is currently on medical leave. The demands of the job have contributed to increased stress and anxiety outside of work, he said. 

Other plaintiffs also stated they were unable to take breaks or use the restroom while on the job. 

After starting her position as a delivery driver at a DSP in Loveland in August 2022, Leah Cross learned from other employees that she would need to find a way around using the restroom during her shift to keep up with Amazon’s quotas, the complaint states. 

She tried to limit how much water she drank prior to a shift. When that didn’t work, she tried to find restrooms along her route. But whenever she would try to stop, she would receive calls from supervisors asking, “Where are you?” or “Are you lost?” 

When Cross brought up the issue with one of her supervisors, they asked that she purchase a urination device called a “Shewee.” The device would allow her to funnel her urine into plastic bottles so she could go without leaving the delivery van, according to the complaint.

Cross began bringing a plastic bag holding her Shewee, toilet paper and some sanitary products with her to work. She also brought a change of clothing in case she had an accident, the lawsuit states. 

At one point, after she had held her need to urinate for several hours, a supervisor instructed her to pee in the back of the delivery van out of view from one of the truck’s surveillance cameras, according to the complaint. 

“I called my fiance crying about how overwhelmed I felt,” Cross said. 

Several months after starting her delivery job, Cross’ DSP fired her for failing to meet delivery quotas. 

Her and other drivers’ request for a class action case comes as Amazon faces harsher scrutiny from federal regulators for workplace violations. In February, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Amazon twice for illegal ergonomic hazards in its distribution warehouses in Colorado. 

The citations included forcing employees to conduct dangerous lifts, reaches and backbends that can cause musclo-skeletal disorders. The company was forced to pay roughly $15,000 for each citation. 

Workplace policies that prioritize speed over safety or bathroom access can have negative health consequences, said Debbie Berkowitz, a former OSHA policy advisor and current fellow at Georgetown University who studies workplace safety.

“Voluntary urinary retention can lead to increased frequency of urinary tract infections and cause real damage,” she said. “Workers have the basic right to take breaks that they’re supposed to get.” 

The path of the Colorado case against Amazon is uncertain since a class action suit of this size and focus hasn’t been filed before, Berkowitz said. 

Amazon is likely to deny the claims in court, but Colorado’s worker-friendly laws make it more likely to succeed than in other states that don’t guarantee breaks for workers. A ruling in favor of workers could take years, though, she added. 

“There have been similar issues with bus drivers or even construction workers,” she said. “And those companies have to figure out a place where their employees can go to the bathroom.” 

Lawyers in the proposed class action case say they plan to pursue a jury trial and compensation for missed rest breaks. 

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