Opinion

Big Tech’s assault on workers and democracy must be stopped

Workers at a February 2021 demonstration protesting Amazon's policies. (Photo: Sheila Fitzgerald, via Shutterstock)

Our nation finds itself at a major crossroads. The anti-democratic forces that have sought to delegitimize the 2020 presidential election continue their movement to attack free and fair elections, aided and abetted by companies like Google and Facebook.

Meanwhile, Big Tech monopolies like Amazon abuse their employees and customers alike, showing little regard for anything other than profit. If we have learned anything from the behavior of Big Tech the last two years it is that they will not regulate themselves, even when lives and our democracy are at stake.

From stolen wages to no bathroom breaks, the Amazon juggernaut continues to stoop to new lows in order to expand its monopoly.

This summer, the House Judiciary Committee finally passed six vital antitrust bills that will regulate and reign in Big Tech. These bills – a rare bipartisan package – have been years in the making, but finally we find ourselves at a point where Democrats and Republicans alike know we cannot continue the way we have. Big Tech monopolies simply must be regulated. 

Throughout the pandemic, our local has heard countless stories about the abuse workers have experienced at the hands of Amazon. Their non-stop pursuit of profits has not only forced local businesses to close, but also put their employees lives at risk.

From stolen wages to no bathroom breaks, the Amazon juggernaut continues to stoop to new lows in order to expand its monopoly. Keep in mind, this is a business that willingly took $2.8. billion in losses in its first seven years so that it could accumulate detailed data on its customers. 

Like many businesses, Amazon relies on ‘essential workers’ such as warehouse employees and delivery drivers to pack and ship goods at breakneck speed. Amazon kept its employees in dangerous and unhealthy working environments, refused to pay the employees it sent home sick, and neglected to inform warehouse workers about possible COVID-19 exposure in a timely manner.

The company also provided grossly insufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees; during the harrowing early days of the pandemic, Amazon delivery drivers here in California received a single disinfectant wipe each to clean their vehicles throughout the day. Amazon even fired whistleblowers who called attention to the company’s poor safety practices and tried to discredit an employee who led a protest against unsafe working conditions by publicly deriding him as “not smart or articulate.”

YouTube allowed “Stop the Steal” videos that intentionally bred mistrust in the election results,

Nearly 20,000 Amazon employees contracted COVID-19 in the first six months of the global health crisis alone. Meanwhile, the pandemic put $86 billion in Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ coffers, making him the first person in world history with a net worth over $200 billion. This, of course, was all before he stepped down as CEO to fly to space in a rocket ship. 

Google similarly proved its irresponsibility during past year and a half. The company is willing and able to turn a blind eye to violent and hateful content on its video platform, YouTube, because the company faces no competition that would hold them accountable for enabling such content. The more views YouTube accumulates, the more data Google can use to sell ads, so the platform continues to allow online fear-mongers to post incendiary videos.

News reports reveal that YouTube has repeatedly ignored warnings that the platform is spreading conspiracy theories and misinformation with deadly consequences. In the immediate aftermath of the 2020 presidential election, YouTube allowed “Stop the Steal” videos that intentionally bred mistrust in the election results, ultimately inciting thousands of Trump supporters to lead an attack on our nation’s capital. 

Facebook’s track record has been even more awful.

Over the last several weeks, multiple whistleblowers have said the company prioritizes profits over combating hate speech, misinformation and other threats to the public. An affidavit submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission alleges Facebook officials routinely undermined efforts to fight misinformation, hate speech and other problematic content out of fear of angering then-President Donald Trump and his allies, or out of concern about potentially dampening the user growth key to Facebook’s multi-billion-dollar profits.

Enough is enough. Big Tech cannot continue to exploit ongoing national chaos for profit.  Congress must pass the antitrust package advanced by the House Judiciary Committee and force these Big Tech monopolies to finally face the music.

Editor’s Note:
John M. Grant is the president of UFCW 770, and  vice president of the California Labor Federation.

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