Those Amazon packages arriving for Christmas? They come at the expense of workers’ rights.

The other day I saw a giant truck on the highway. It had the Amazon.com logo on it and read, “There’s more to Prime. A truck load more.” Indeed there should be more to Prime — but maybe not quite the way the corporation means it. 

Just like Amazon revolutionized e-commerce in the United States and worldwide, Amazon’s Prime membership took the corporation’s innovations to a whole new level. In the United States alone, there are more than 100 million Prime members, folks who pay $119 per year for faster delivery as well as access to Amazon’s video and music library, grocery delivery and more. And indeed, Prime members literally seem to get more; in 2018, Amazon Prime members averaged $1,400 annually in Amazon purchases, compared to $600 with Amazon spent by non-Prime members. 

It’s time for Prime members to demand more from the corporation they’re enthusiastically supporting. After all, Prime members were a big part of Amazon’s $11.2 billion in profits last year — on which the corporation, incidentally, paid $0 in income taxes. So can’t we, the people, demand more from Amazon — with Prime members leading the way?

Efficiency often comes at the cost of workers’ wellbeing

In fact, arguably for Prime members who are both pushing and benefitting from the leading innovations of Amazon, speaking out for more just business practices is our duty. Amazon’s convenience comes at a high cost to working people. People working at Amazon face strenuous, sometimes impossible, demands inside warehouses, delivering packages, and even working as independent contractors. 

Amazon packages (Photo: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images)

Warehouse workers are required to meet impossible quotas for how many items they “pick” every shift. They often receive few — if any — real breaks on the job, and the demands are so great, warehouse workers around the world have succumbed to exhaustion and some have even died on the warehouse floor. Drivers race against a tight clock to deliver an enormous amount of packages, putting their own — and the safety of others — on the road at risk. Amazon increasingly relies on contractors to make these deliveries, which limits the company’s liability if something goes wrong and lets Amazon avoid paying overtime or benefits, while drivers use their own cars to make deliveries.

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That’s bad enough, but as Amazon expands its data services empire, its unjust business practices are setting the standard for the entire economy. And instead of using its profits to reward the working people who make Amazon work, the corporation pays politicians to do its bidding — rigging the rules of the economy to be better for Amazon but worse for our communities. The end result will be almost instantaneous delivery of a race-to-the-bottom economy that is bad for all of us.

You can speak up and still purchase Amazon products

Amazon needs its customers. But what are we getting in return? Sure, we get our packages. But we are also getting an unprecedented monopoly. Amazon’s impact on our economy isn’t just outsized — its a fundamental threat to our democracy. We can no longer wait to see if the company will voluntarily relinquish its power over our economy and alter business practices to avoid negatively impacting marketplaces, workers and neighbors. Consumers, working people, and communities have the power to set the terms and conditions for how Amazon conducts business now.

Through consumer regulatory boards, regional e-commerce commissions and community governance structures that center impacted people and workers, we can hold Amazon accountable. There’s no contradiction here. We may not all hold shares in Amazon, but we all have a stake. And it’s time we speak up and demand more.

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Just like many of us who shop at grocery stores simultaneously pushed those stores to offer more organic and healthy options, just like many of us send our kids to public and private schools at the same time while pushing for those schools to be better and just like we vote and support certain elected officials at the same time we register our complaints and push them to do better, we can shop at Amazon while demanding the corporation do better — by consumers, workers, our country and our globe. 

The fact is there should be more to Prime — especially for working people, our communities and our economy. And if those of us who are Prime members use our voice to demand more, we’ll get it. 

Erica Smiley is the executive director of Jobs with Justice. Follow Jobs with Justice on Twitter: @jwjnational 

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