We’d rather have e-bikes on our streets than FedEx trucks

We’ve all seen the stories of how the pandemic is impacting small businesses around the country—and the corresponding stories of how Amazon is growing larger at their expense. Here’s how one South Jersey town is taking an interesting approach to supporting their small business community by taking a page from the logistics behemoth. 

In January 2021, Collingswood, NJ launched a new program called Collingswood Prime. This program paired small businesses with a minority-owned e-bike delivery company called Bloc Delivery, to deliver products from those businesses to residents in town, two days per week. Historically, Collingswood has had a thriving downtown business that includes a small grocery store, as well as pet stores, music shops, kitchen supplies and a comic book store. 

In an interview, Collingswood Commissioner Rob Lewandowski talked to me about the genesis of the program. 

“We really see that part of the role of local government in business development is inviting people into our downtown—in normal times, that looks like pedestrian planning, throwing community events, improving accessibility, things like that. When COVID hit, we were presented with this hurdle—we’re telling people not to shop in person, so how do we get them to shop local, when they’re buying everything online? We’re telling store owners they have to limit how many people are in their store—how do we help them reach more customers online?

“Our traditional model wasn’t useful during the pandemic, so we reallocated our event budget to promoting local businesses in other ways. We think it’s much better for our town to have people buying things locally and having them delivered in an environmentally sustainable way, instead of having our streets crowded with FedEx and UPS trucks that are delivering things from far away warehouses.”

Collingswood Prime is a partnership between the town’s Business Improvement District and an employee-owned delivery service, Bloc Delivery. Customers are charged a transaction fee, on top of the cost of their purchase, which goes directly to the delivery company to pay for the delivery—that is not shared with either the businesses or the town government, instead it goes directly to the workers who own the delivery service. For its part, the township added a page to their website, advertising all the stores that are involved in the program and giving people a taste of what they sell, to help promote online shopping and local delivery.

“Our hope is that this continues past the pandemic,” Lewandowski told me.  “While residents can’t meet every single one of their needs by buying local, we want to show people that a lot of things that they buy are available in town, and we want them to keep relying on local stores when the need for social distancing and limits for how many people can shop in person is over.”

An open letter to readers of Hack the Union

Well, hi there! It’s been a minute—all on me, I know, as Hack the Union was suspended for probably more weeks of 2020 than it was published. 

As we move out of the chaos of 2020, and into the (even more?) chaos of 2021, I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of this website, and where it is going. 

I’ve spent the bulk of my career organizing in the liminal space where political organizing and labor organizing meet. And I’ve been lucky enough to do that in both large, multi-racial labor unions and in smaller, primarily BIPOC worker justice organizations. To be clear here: when I say “political,” I mean a combination of legislative, policy and electoral work—“politics” is more than just elections. Similarly, when I say “labor organizing,” I am talking about organizing workers to make a change at work—which includes, but is not limited to, winning NLRB elections or securing contracts. 

I started writing Hack the Union in 2013, because I was reading a lot about the then-nascent gig economy, but only in the tech press. At that point, few labor leaders were paying attention to what was going on in Silicon Valley. Suffice it to say, that problem has been remedied over the past eight years (not exclusively by me, but I’ll take some credit for it). Part of my lack of focusing on this newsletter, over the past year, has been driven by the knowledge that other people have started covering these stories, thanks to the explosion in labor journalism that was kicked off during the Trump era (I will not take any credit for that). 

At the same time, a lot of what had me distracted last year (in addition to *gestures vaguely* all the things) was the fact that I had to really split my focus. Starting in the second quarter, with the pandemic in full effect, I (like many of you) spent countless hours on phone calls and zooms, supporting workers who were standing up against employers that wouldn’t keep them safe, and fighting for excluded workers to get the cash they needed to keep them alive.  And simultaneously, because of the liminal nature of my work life, I was also spending a ton of time with folks who were trying to protect our democracy. Notice I do not say “with folks who were trying to elect Joe Biden.” That was an important side effect, but for most of the people I worked with, electing Biden was a secondary goal. 

That combination of pieces of work has me thinking a lot about what failures exist, in the labor movement (not to mention our democracy more broadly) when it comes to the political education of the working class. 

I had planned to take the Christmas holidays/end of year break as time to figure some things out, but it turned out that I was so exhausted, I didn’t do nearly the amount of thinking work that I wanted to do. Last week’s actions in the Capitol are not making me feel like I’m going to have the mental capacity to do a ton of that thinking in work in the immediate future, either. 

I’m writing this anyway, because I want you to hold me accountable to doing it. 

One of the hardest things for me in being a freelancer is feeling like I don’t have the space to do things that aren’t about earning money. (Deep thanks, to all those of you who are supporting my Patreon—but it’s not enough to pay my monthly phone bill, at this point—and I don’t even write something I charge for every month!.) Suffice it to say that while my other consulting business is pretty secure, Hack the Union is a solid demonstration of my failure to be a successful capitalist. Which is okay.

It’s okay—but if it’s important to YOU that this thing here continues to evolve, I need some help from. Here’s what I need (pick one or both):

  1. Schedule a 30-45-minute long meeting with me to talk about Hack the Union, in the first two weeks of February.
  2. Send me the name of one great organizer that you personally know, with a one-paragraph description of something that they’ve done that’s worth writing about. Bonus points if it includes that organizer’s contact information.

Thanks to you all. Love to your babies (human and fur). Dance with joy at the defeat of our enemies. May 2020s be the decade we earned, though our mutual, exhausting work in 2020. 

With love & solidarity,