When you click “order” on your Amazon shopping cart, a chain reaction is triggered to deliver this yoga mat in record time. Thousands of Amazon workers like me are at the center of it all.
Unfortunately, this yoga mat doesn’t arrive at your doorstep until the next day due to the abusive conditions Amazon forces its warehouse workers to operate under. Nearly 30 miles of walking every shift. Minimal breaks in the bathroom. Twelve hours a day for pay and benefits that are just table scraps – not enough to support my family, and not enough for one of the wealthiest companies of all time. These are the conditions I witnessed time and time again over three years as a worker in New Jersey and later an Amazon warehouse supervisor in Staten Island.
This kind of treatment is wrong, and it’s going to get worse as Amazon suffers the biggest layoff in the company’s history. We deserve a seat at the table, which is why I led the first successful organizing effort at an Amazon fulfillment center. Our campaign still has a long way to go, and I’ve seen firsthand how hard Amazon will fight to keep its boot on its workers’ necks. The company peddles fear and intimidation – they even had me arrested trying to stop, which only made me fight harder for justice.
But it wasn’t until recently that I started to get the big picture: how Amazon uses the same tactics to stifle companies that are also potential competitors. As John Oliver explained in a segment which went viral this summer, Amazon is using its dominance to prevent competitors from having a chance to compete. Amazon copies products made by genuine small businesses, prioritizes theirs over originals in search results, and reduces quality and consumer choice in the process.
These tactics have far-reaching consequences, not only for competitors and workers, but also for the economy and society as a whole.
A lack of accountability has allowed big tech companies to continue their anti-competitive practices and leverage their market share to stifle innovation. But a bipartisan bill currently being considered on Capitol Hill could change that. The invoice — the US Online Choice and Innovation Act (AICO) – would spur innovation, increase competition, improve product quality, strengthen small businesses and lower prices for consumers by forcing companies like Amazon to compete on the merits of its products and services at the instead of using their dominance to kill the competition.
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Although the bill has the necessary votes to pass, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer refuses to put the bill to a vote. The Biden administration has done everything possible to pass the bill, and voters said loud and clear mid-term that they would reward action on the economy. What is Schumer waiting for?
The truth is that Schumer talks about supporting Labor and hold the monopolies accountable, but it misses an opportunity to do something about it. It’s time for Schumer to act. Here’s why.
First, this is not about left or right politics, this is about worker power and ending corporate abuse. More competition equals more workers power, and more workers power equals stronger democracy. Our country was built on the idea of free and fair markets, but right now corporate greed and the monopolistic behavior of big tech companies are eroding it before our eyes. This bill would help us ensure free and fair competition that promotes the best of American innovation and competition, instead of racketeering where the biggest corporations run the show.
Second, the fight to hold Amazon accountable is to protect the future of the internet. Antitrust laws haven’t been significantly updated since the dawn of the internet, and it’s easy to see how tech companies have exploited this lack of oversight to gain more wealth than most countries, write their own rules and come up with worse products along the way. Someone recently compared increasingly less useful Google search results to the feeling of walking through a dying mall. The same can be felt on the internet, from Amazon to Facebook. AICO would help solve this problem.
And finally, most Americans support the legislation, including prominent members of Schumer’s own party. Democrats from all political walks of life — from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to President Biden — support the bill. The same goes for conservative Republicans like Senator Chuck Grassley.
Schumer has no good reason to wait. It is time for him to act and defend competition, workers’ rights and fair markets. We the people – those on whom these businesses depend day in and day out – will not stop until this fight is won.
Smalls is the president of the Amazon Labor Union.