Various labor activists, union members and elected officials announced a new coalition Wednesday aimed at combating large corporate entities and monopolies while also calling for the passage of a new legislation — the 21st Century Antitrust Act.
Amazon was the focal point of the freshly-formed coalition’s ire on Nov. 10, as members gathering set up outside the online delivery giant’s bookstore on 34th Street and 5th Avenue in Midtown. Taking aim at large companies who advocates say can overwork employees for low wages and treat them with disregard thanks to being the only game in town needs to end.
“Our mission is to build strong coalitions with small businesses, labor unions, and community organizations coming together to ensure that we tackle two big crises of our time: income inequality and climate change,” aid Maritza Silva-Farrell, the Executive Director at ALIGN. “It is no secret that one of the main sources of racial injustice and economic justice is the power that corporations have in our country and in our state. Corporations across the state, whether it’s Amazon, Google, Apple, anybody on tech for E commerce, have made billions out of the suffering of our communities. We saw that through this past year and continue to see value in this pandemic.”
The 21st Century Antitrust Act, sponsored by Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris and Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, is essentially a bill that will update antitrust laws allowing for big companies to be sued for their abusive and monopoly practices. Thus in turn, advocates say, tipping the scales of justice and power toward workers, small businesses and communities.
In June, the antitrust bill passed in the New York State Senate, and is being put forward to the Assembly. If passed, it will be the first legislation of its kind in the United States to allow mega corporations to have their power checked and could, in turn, have big implications for the rest of the country (potentially affecting federal antitrust laws as well).
“We know that history cannot repeat the way that it did back in the Gilded Age. We’re living in another one now. And it’s incumbent on us to pass legislation that really tipped the scale in favor of the workers,” state Senator Jessica Ramos said. “Jeff Bezos is laughing up in space while his workers are fighting to put food on the table. Elon Musk is trying to follow him out in space while we’re working, while we’re fighting to make sure all workers get guaranteed housing.”
According to Silva-Farrell, Amazon made $90 billion during the pandemic, as smaller businesses had to shut down. Additionally, Amazon has often been accused by unions for mistreating their workers, depressing wages, and committing anti-competitive practices that eliminate jobs and reduce benefits.
Eugene, the political director of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU), states that Amazon has become one of the most valuable companies the world has ever seen, and yet he adds that it also has the highest rate of workplace illnesses, injuries, high turnover rates in the warehouse industry, and is anti-union. Eugene and other attendees believe the antitrust bill will hold corporations accountable, giving workers a fighting chance for a democratic economy.
“The antitrust law may sound very academic, but it has a very real consequence on working people’s lives and on consumers throughout this country because too much power is now in the hands of too few corporations. Unlike any other time in this country, we have a very small number of people with incredible power and that power is not just economic power, that translates into political power. We’re standing in front of an Amazon establishment. This is a company that thinks they can set policy in this country, not just do their business, not just abuse their workers, but actually tell governments how to set their policy,” said Gianaris.
Gianaris states that the antitrust laws have not been updated in over one hundred years, and it is time to put teeth into these regulations in order to protect workers and stand up for small and medium sized businesses. He also added that the opposition against the 21st Century Antitrust Act consists of those who are inordinately rich and only yearn to get richer by maintaining the status quo.