In an attempt to rein in the competitive control of Amazon and other tech giants, Bronx small business owners and union leaders are urging state lawmakers to pass legislation that would update the state’s antitrust laws at a time when many Bronx mom-and-pop stores feel they are being run out of business.
It’s been 133 years since New York state has updated or amended its antitrust laws, known as the Donnelly Act which was enacted in 1899.
The excitement of a major tech company coming to town is palpable. Amazon estimates that the company has historically generated $27.5 billion in New York City and state revenue over the last 25 years.
However, the stories from former Amazon employees at warehouses and shipping centers throughout the borough are less glamorous.
Dennis Reyes, a 23-year-old who worked at the Amazon Delivery Station in Hunts Point, described his five-month stint at the site as one filled with “constant mismanagement, low pay for low hours and a depressing work environment.” Reyes said he quit the company during the pandemic in August when his paternity leave was denied, after working an entire week with minimal rest.
Some employees, who feared retaliation from tech giant said that the middle-to-higher management at various NYC-based Amazon locations have actively dissuaded or banned materials regarding unionization.
This isn’t just an experience unique to New York City’s Amazon workforce, however.
Recently, Amazon union workers in Alabama filed a new complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), accusing Amazon of interfering with the revote process, forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings, and tearing down pro-union posters.
Back home in Staten Island, Amazon warehouse workers in October battled for their right to unionize warehouses that employ an estimated 7,000 people, and pack and ship products for the massive New York market.
Amazon Labor Union, started by Chris Smalls — a former Amazon employee who engineered a walkout at the start of the pandemic to protest working conditions and was fired the same day — is fighting for workers to receive longer breaks, better medical and other leave options as well as higher wages.
The Amazon Labor Union is scheduled to have a union election with the e-commerce giant from March 25-30 at the Staten Island warehouse called JFK8.
Meanwhile, advocates from New Yorkers for a Fair Economy, a coalition of laborers and small businesses, said that their main goal through the hopeful passage of 21st Century Antitrust Act cis to fix the power imbalance of big corporations who move into NYC communities and it workers.
“The 21st Century Antitrust Act will redefine thousands of startups, mom & pop shops and small businesses across New York as monopolies,” said Lev Ginsburg, Counsel to the Business Council of New York State. With prices skyrocketing, shelves empty and thousands still out of work, this is exactly the wrong time for activists to pressure our elected officials in Albany to pass another law that will make living and growing small businesses in New York harder and more expensive.”
The legislation which is sponsored by state Senate Deputy Majority Leader Michael Gianaris and Bronx Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz passed in the Senate in June and is on the docket during the current Assembly session.
“I’m not here because I’m anti-business, I’m actually pro-business,” said Dinowitz. “To be pro-business, you have to be pro-worker. And I’m here in particular to support small, medium and even big business who are feeling squeezed out by these giant companies.”
The bill would make it illegal for corporations to use market power to harm their competitors, customers and workers, and level the playing field, advocates say, between big tech and NYC’s mom-and-pop establishments, who feel they are being bullied out of business through anticompetitive practices.
In a letter sent to Gov. Kathy Hochul last month, more than 60 business leaders and legal experts opposed the legislation, stating that it would instead create a new level of risk, cost and potential liability for all New York state businesses, both large and small, if passed.
“If enacted, this law would make New York far less attractive for business investment and job creation, since it will put restrictions on New York firms that their competitors in other states and most countries would not be subject to,” the letter reads.
At a press conference on Wednesday in front of the New Green Earth Food Corp. in the Mount Eden section of the Bronx, elected officials, laborers and union teamsters took aim at Amazon and other other tech companies for its anticompetitive practices.
It’s a story becoming all too familiar for local brick-and-mortar establishment, said Rev. Carmen Hernandez, president of the NYC LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce said.
Francisco Marte, a Mount Hope bodega owner, said that Amazon’s expediency and the name brand has only complicated the supply-chain crisis for NYC’s small businesses.
“Bodega owners like me have been hit hard by the pandemic and the supply-chain crisis, while companies like Amazon see their profits soar,” said Marte, who owns the New Green Earth Food Corp. bodega and the founder of the Bodega & Small Business Association. “They can keep so much inventory and deliver goods at dangerously fast rates — I can’t compete with that.
“We are losing our moms and pop stores, and they can’t compete with high speed, high (production) and low prices that are making is hard for them to compete or stay alive,” he said. “I am familiar with these big companies. They will slave you for long hours and give you little pay.”
Anthony Rosario, a union leader with Local 804 in Brooklyn, said the “Amazon Effect” is undoing all the progress made by NYC union and labor advocates to ensure a fair competitive ecosystem.
“Companies like Amazon are using their power to make people work harder than less,” said Rosario.
Rosario started working two-part time jobs at UPS in 1994 when he was 19, before going on a union strike in 1997.
“(Big companies) come to town and bring down industry standards, standards that union leaders and teamsters have been working for decades to ensure and protect,” he said.
Reach Robbie Sequeira at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.