Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and other local elected officials get a guided tour of the Amazon fulfillment center in Thornton on Aug. 29, 2019. The center opened in June 2018 and spans 855,000 square feet with more than 1,500 employees.

Despite our best efforts, and excellent leadership from Gov. Jared Polis and his administration, COVID-19 has negatively impacted almost every Coloradan – and the impact in Aurora where I live and in minority and immigrant communities has been far worse and even more devastating to the health and economic well-being of so many. 

It seems that regardless of our personal feelings towards the pandemic, the changes we have made to our routines are here to stay for even longer, and it may take years for many to dig out of the economic hole as a result.

Amid this pandemic, small business owners have been struggling. With less foot traffic and restrictions regarding how businesses can operate during this time, many small businesses are being forced to make tough decisions to weather this storm. 

Naquetta Ricks

However, while small businesses across Colorado and the United States continue to face hardships, Big Tech companies like Amazon have used the pandemic to hurt small businesses, exploit their workers, and expand the power of their monopolies.

Amazon’s power grab at the expense of the little guy is hurting workers, consumers, and small businesses just trying to stay afloat right now – many of which are woman- and minority-owned. Allowing Amazon to become even larger while small businesses are forced to shut their doors for good does nothing but hurt our economy and workers’ ability to receive a living wage and keep food on the table.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has done a fantastic job in standing up to Big Tech for years now, and I hope that he pushes to be sure that major changes are made. Attorney General Weiser’s experience as an antitrust official for the Department of Justice in the Obama administration has ensured that Coloradans have experts in their corner making sure that Big Tech comes to justice. Nonetheless, more needs to be done to end Big Tech’s harmful practices.

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Back in May, Amazon decided that not only would it eliminate its hazard pay wage increases and double overtime pay for workers, but also that it would phase out its policy that allowed workers to take unlimited time off if they felt sick or unsafe while at work, effective May 31.

That was more than five months ago and COVID-19 is as prevalent as ever. Rather than fairly compensate Amazon workers, CEO Jeff Bezos has instead grown his wealth by tens of billions of dollars during COVID-19.  Amazon’s workers deserve better and I am fighting to ensure that I can speak up and expose Amazon for the poor working conditions in the Colorado House of Representatives – especially Colorado’s communities of color.

While the small businesses that I work with on a daily basis are following all of the necessary health precautions to slow the spread of COVID-19, Amazon has shown that it has little regard for the safety and well being of its employees – choosing instead to prioritize its profits. Despite cases spiking throughout the U.S., Amazon chooses to ignore social distancing requirements and instead force its workers to continue doing their jobs in extremely close quarters.

What does it say when small businesses struggling to make ends meet can follow all of the rules to keep workers and consumers safe but a global company whose CEO has gained hundreds of billions of dollars during a pandemic cannot?

With thousands of workers in Amazon distribution centers in Colorado alone, state representatives and Congress must act to curb the destruction Big Tech leaves in its wake.

Companies like Amazon need to be held accountable for growing their monopolies at the expense of small businesses and our economy. Now more than ever before, policymakers in Congress and at the state level need to reign in these tech giants before they become too big and will have already done irreparable damage to our economy, small businesses, families, and workers.

Reforming or repealing legislation like Section 230, which gives Big Tech additional opportunities to expand their power and reach, is a good start.

Coloradans deserve better. Women and minorities should have the chance to chase the American Dream of owning a business without fear that undemocratic monopolies will trample their life’s work.

Naquetta Ricks of Aurora is president and co-founder of the African Chamber of Commerce Colorado. On Nov. 3 she was elected to represent District 40 in the Colorado House of Representatives.

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