'Walmart on steroids': Beware of Amazon's growing monopoly
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When news first broke that Amazon was buying Whole Foods, it sent shockwaves throughout the retail food market. The stock prices of top grocery stores all declined, and thousands of Whole Foods workers began to worry whether Amazon’s love of automation and preference to use robots instead of people would mean the end of their jobs. Amazon’s pursuit of world domination didn’t stop there.  

Every move Amazon makes seems to instantly harm any and all competitors. By simply filing for a trademark about prepared meal kits, they were able to send Blue Apron stock tumbling to all-time lows. When they forged an agreement to sell Kenmore appliances, it sent Home Depot stock falling.

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Amazon’s unique ability to manipulate the retail market, to tank stocks with just the announcement of a remotely new idea, to instantly intimidate suppliers and competitors, threatens the health of our economy.

 

As for those who believe that this form of digital capitalism will lead to even lower prices, the truth is that as Amazon grows, it will eventually destroy the very competition that drives prices down. Consider, for example, that an investigation from ProPublica showed that Amazon favored their own, more expensive listings, or Amazon-made products, over those of smaller sellers.   

Much like Walmart’s dominance and pursuit of low-priced goods pushed more and more retailers to buy products from China at the expense of American workers and manufacturing jobs, Amazon’s dominance will push more and more retailers and suppliers to automate and robotize their workforces. This directly threatens millions of retail and service sector jobs, along with manufacturing positions as well.

If this happens, hard-working men and women in nearly every city will struggle more than ever to find good jobs, and our entire economy will suffer.   

How will members of Congress protect Americans from Amazon’s immense power over retail prices? What will President Trump, who spoke out about the loss of American jobs, do? And what will agencies like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) do to ensure that Amazon does not become Walmart on steroids?

As for Congress, aside from the 12 members — all Democrats — who wrote a letter to the FTC and Department of Justice about why Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods should be “scrutinized beyond the normal antitrust review process,” and Reps. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who both separately raised concerns about Amazon’s growing power, Democratic leadership and other members of Congress have said nothing.  

President Trump, who campaigned by criticizing bad deals that hurt jobs and workers has — aside from some tweets — not spoken out against or announced any concrete plans to address Amazon’s unchecked growth. The FTC, an agency that is supposed to keep America’s marketplace free, fair and competitive, seems poised to approve Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods without concern.      

The irony is that Amazon’s negative impact on jobs, small businesses and suppliers will not be limited to Republican or Democratic states and districts. All of us, no matter what political leanings we have, will be impacted by Amazon’s monopolistic desire to control the retail market and replace good jobs with automation. This isn’t hyperbole.  

In 2016, 43 percent of all online sales went through Amazon; the online retailer also accounted for more than half of all online sales growth last year. Where will Amazon be in five years? How about 10 years? The thing is, we don’t need to wait years to understand Amazon’s harm to our economy, because it’s already playing out. 

Amazon controls a huge swath of the steadily growing online marketplace, and it gives them a distinct advantage over regional and national competitors, which results in job cuts. Public filings show that Amazon played a large role in eliminating more than 50,000 jobs from Staples, Office Depot and Best Buy. In March, MarketWatch estimated that Amazon’s dominant growth could remove as many as 1.5 million retail jobs within five years

All of this begs the question: If Amazon forces millions of service and retail sector jobs to be lost, if they squeeze suppliers to the bone, if they devastate commercial construction because much fewer retail spaces are built, and if they make it impossible for grocery or retail workers to earn a better life because they can no longer find work, where do elected leaders think “good American jobs” are going to come from? 

If Amazon’s dominance continues to be left unaddressed, politicians will one day have to explain to millions of displaced workers that their jobs and their children’s jobs weren’t lost because of unfair trade, changing markets, or true competition, but because they were unwilling to challenge an obvious retail monopoly that believes every job can be done better without people.

At that point, members of Congress better hope that Jeff Bezos doesn’t find a way to replace or automate their jobs. The American people may actually support that effort.   

Marc Perrone is president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, a labor union representing approximately 1.3 million workers in the United States and Canada in industries including agriculture, health care, meatpacking, poultry and food processing, manufacturing, textile, chemical trades and retail food.


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