Automation did not kill the supermarket worker.
Who would have thought it. Instead of those pesky self-checkout lanes replacing every supermarket employee in America, the workers are raging against the machines.
Well, not quite the workers. Albertson’s, a major grocer, has announced it’s getting rid of self-checkout lanes in 100 of its 200-plus stores.
This from MSNBC:
“We just want the opportunity to talk to customers more,” Albertsons spokeswoman Christine Wilcox said. “That’s the driving motivation.”
What!? Talk to customers more. Since when do corporations care about that? Clearly there must be something else driving this business decision.
One tech writer thinks we’re all too dumb to handle the scanning machines.
Major grocery chains like Albertson’s are eliminating self-checkout aisles at their various locations because management claims they’re too impersonal. What a crock. That’s a polite way of saying some people are simply ill-equipped to use them efficiently.
I don’t know where Loftus shops, but I’ve seen a bunch of really old guys and gals scanning their Ensure and Polygrip at the supermarkets I frequent with little trouble working the supposedly mysterious technology. Maybe they’re not going very fast, but they’re doing just fine.
That said, I always bypass the self-checkout lanes because I like to interact with people and I hate the fact that the machines may be replacing a real worker.
A robust job recovery is prevented by permanent displacements of millions of workers whose jobs are now performed by a combination of technological advances and low-wage foreign workers, along with construction and retail jobs that are not likely to return, according to an economic forecast by Edward Leamer, director of the UCLA Anderson Forecast,. “It is likely to take a very long time for those 5.5 million displaced workers to find jobs again, and in the meantime the economy will grow, but not as robustly as in traditional recoveries when the recalls were almost 100 percent,” he said.
On the flip side, Sal Novin, CEO of Healthcare Productivity Automation, thinks automation is actually good for employment in the long term.
“By automating simple tasks such as checking out groceries, businesses can focus on adding high-value work cannot be automated,” he said. “Grocers can hire nutritionists to help consumers make more healthy buying decisions. These jobs are often more rewarding because they have a greater positive effect on the lives of consumers. These high-value job opportunities would not be possible, if businesses did not find opportunities through automation savings.”
It’s unclear if any savings go to creating any of these new types of jobs. I haven’t noticed any nutritionists at my local market, have you?
The answer to the does-automation-help-or-hinder-workers question may be much more complex.
“Has automation helped workers?” asked Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University’s Graduate School of Management. “In general I would say yes, by increasing productivity and reducing unit labor costs, it keeps employers competitive, particularly against low cost labor intensive companies overseas, and it protects American workers’ jobs.”
However, he added, “there are two problems:”
“First, automation for jobs like those of a check out clerk at a grocery store or even an assembly line workers can increase the pace of work, creating a tremendous physical and mental burden on workers as they try to keep up with the faster pace. There can be continuous pressures to increase productivity, to make machines ‘pay for themselves’, and as a result workers feel the downside, working harder, without the upside — getting paid for greater productivity.
“Second, automation may enable employer surveillance. Employers can check on the pace of workers secretly, and thus discipline those falling behind. This is a common problem with word processing and call centers, but it could spread to anywhere workers uses computers to process orders in any ways.
“So yes, it can be a blessing, but it also has a very dark side.”
Well, the workers at many Albertson’s stores won’t have to worry about those Darth-Vaderesque self-checkout machines anymore. Of is this just a temporary reprieve?