Lawmakers, activists, and business owners gathered in front of a Bronx grocery store on February 23rd to call for the passage of the 21st Century Antitrust Act, an anti-monopoly bill that would allow small businesses to compete against big corporations in New York City.
Senator Michael Gianaris and Assembly member Jeffrey Dinowitz originally introduced the bill in June 2020. It made it out of the Senate in 2021 but failed to pass out of the Assembly. The press conference, which was organized by New Yorkers for a Fair Economy, is a continuation of the lawmakers’ efforts to promote the bill, which awaits its third reading in the Senate Committee on Consumer Protection. Originally co-sponsored by three senators, the bill has gained popularity since its first introduction and is now supported by Sens. Julia Salazar, Alessandra Biaggi, Brad Hoylman, Robert Jackson, Brain Kavanaugh and Rachel May. Sponsors doubled in the Assembly, too, from two to four. Other elected officials, such as New York Attorney General Letitia James, have also expressed their support for the legislation.
“We ask you to pass this legislation to give the power back to businesses and support the community that elected you,” said Rev. Carmen Hernandez, chairman of the NYS Coalition of Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “Mom-and-pop stores are the core of this community, but they can’t compete with the prices of corporate companies whose workers are enslaved for little pay.”
Under New York’s current antitrust law, a suit may only be filed if two companies conspire together to crush the competition. The proposed bill would allow the state to sue corporations that act unilaterally. Under the Act, it would be unlawful for any corporation to “abuse their dominant position,” but critics argue that this language is too vague and that a European standard of dominance has no place in the city.
Christopher Marchese, a policy counsel for trade association NetChoice, testified before the Committee on Consumer Protection to oppose the passage of the bill in 2020. He argued that this legislation would create higher prices, punish market success and prevent any company from operating at “multiple stages of the supply chain,” not only Big Tech corporations. The Business Council of New York State and the Chamber of Commerce raised concerns about the definition of a monopoly, which currently refers to a company that dominates 70 percent of the market. Under the 21st Century Antitrust Act, any business controlling 40 percent or more would be considered a monopoly.
“I think this would represent a pretty significant departure by New York from the rest of the country,” said Adam Kovacevich, the founder and CEO of Chamber of Commerce. “If the law dramatically lowers the [monopoly] threshold, then that could give future attorneys general tools to go after smaller companies.”
While the bill does not explicitly call out tech companies, they have been in the spotlight during the debate.
In 2019, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which is a nonprofit organization that supports local economies, released a survey where 93 percent of independent retailers around the country said that Amazon had negatively impacted their revenues, and 75 percent of respondents ranked Amazon as their top challenge when it comes to competition. Small businesses, who employ more than half of the city’s workers, have complained that only big corporations such as Apple or Amazon could afford the city’s soaring rents and accused them of monopolizing spaces that should be reserved for residents.
Applications such as Buyk, which promises ultra-fast grocery delivery services in New York City, use “dark stores” where supplies are stocked in physical locations to be picked up by workers. Francisco Marte, founder of the Bodega and Small Businesses Association, suggested that residents could support brick-and-mortar businesses by ordering supplies from local businesses on the application My Bodega Online instead of relying on corporations.
“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. “They can keep so much inventory and deliver goods at dangerous fast rates – I can’t compete with that.”
This effort comes one week after a Staten Island Amazon warehouse became the second Amazon facility in the United States to get a union vote in two years, and the in-person election is set to take place in late March. Organized by former worker Chris Smalls, who was fired after he organized a protest over coronavirus safeguards, the organization demanded better working conditions, job security and paid sick leave. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which is the country’s biggest labor union, voted to support the newly- formed Amazon Labor Union in 2021 and created a special division to fund and assist employees with organizing. Anthony Rosario, a UPS driver and Teamster Local 804 member, argues that Amazon uses predatory pricing to put its competitors out of business because they can handle the temporary monetary loss.
“I don’t know if there will ever be a collaboration between Amazon and small businesses, but I think that if they put more money into their workers, that would be a real step in the right direction,” said Rosario. “Amazon became some mega monster, gobbling businesses like nothing happens.”
If passed, the bill would amend the Donnelly Act, which is the state’s current antitrust law, for the first time in 89 years.