Etsy strike broadens potential of the labor movement

Photo courtesy of Karolina Grabowska, Pexels.

What began as a single Reddit post has morphed into thousands of people participating in a week-long strike against one of the largest online marketplaces. Before this movement, I had no clue Etsy sellers had been enduring arbitrary fees for years. Transaction fees, listing fees, payment processing fees and shipping fees cut into their typically low profits. To make matters worse, Etsy will advertise sellers’ goods without their consent and slap an extra fee on any purchases made by customers who click the unauthorized ads.

In February, Etsy announced it would raise fees by 30% starting on April 11. One shop owner, Kristi Cassidy, had enough. She posted a call to action on Reddit, encouraging her fellow sellers to participate in a week-long strike starting on April 11. Thousands of participants put their shops on vacation mode, which prevented anyone from viewing their wares or placing orders.

Horrified by Etsy's greedy and unfair policies, I decided to reach out to one of my favorite shop owners to learn how he was personally being affected. Jo Altmaier, owner of JosLittleArtShop on Etsy, was happy to answer my questions via Instagram DMs. In one message he wrote how he was inspired to join the strike because someday he hopes his store can be his primary source of income.

“I asked myself, if/when my whole livelihood depends on my online shop, how will an increase of those fees affect me? I already see how it’s affecting other creators. Etsy owes its success to its sellers,” Altmaier said. “To see it ‘thank’ us by increasing fees again is disappointing to say the least.”

I am not a seller, but even I can see how Etsy’s entire model depends on people like Altmaier. Without the hard work they put into maintaining their shops, no revenue would be generated. In 2021 “Etsy sellers generated gross merchandise sales of $12.2 billion,” according to CNBC. This is a double in sales since 2019, mostly due to the pandemic which caused many shoppers to flock to the internet during lockdown.

Now that shop owners have recognized their collective bargaining power, they have posted a petition with a list of demands. In addition to canceling the fee increase, they want Etsy to create a better strategy for removing resellers, improve the support system to better handle incidents of AI terminating or placing holds on accounts without reason, give all sellers the option to opt out of offsite ads and end the Star Seller Program, which gives certain Etsy shops an advantage based on arbitrary criteria.

Anyone can sign the petition, not just shop owners. Those who want to stay informed should follow @etsy.strike on Instagram, Altmaier advised. Although most striking shops reopened on April 19, alternate purchasing options are usually available for shoppers who want to avoid supporting Etsy until demands are met.

“The best way to support Etsy sellers on strike is to find other ways to purchase from them. Instead of going through Etsy to buy our products, you can shop on the creators personal website if they have one or contact them directly (via DM or email) and see if they sell like that,” Altmaier said.

Strikers’ next steps are unclear, but Cassidy has openly discussed how input from labor groups and conversations with her fellow sellers have started to point them in the direction of unionizing. Organizing plans are currently being drafted on a Discord server.

If sellers continue to pursue this idea, the structure of their resulting union would not resemble any other in the history of labor organizing due to its members’ geographic distance, the uniqueness of their work and the fact that they are not technically considered employees of the company.

In the meantime, many are waiting for Etsy to release a formal statement in response to the movement. Few sellers dare to have high expectations considering the company’s history, but any acknowledgement of mistreatment would be a step in the right direction. 

“I hope that enough shops closed and enough revenue was lost that Etsy realizes they need to treat their sellers better,” Altmaier said.