This past week, the AFL-CIO filed a ballot initiative that would restrict and limit the number of self-checkout kiosks in Oregon.
If successful, the so-called “Grocery Store Service and Community Protection Act” would force retailers across Oregon to downsize their self-service checkout areas to no more than two kiosks per store.
Self-checkout kiosks often help cut back on time spent in a grocery store for those not getting many items. This leads to shorter lines and streamlines the process of customers paying for their groceries.
For employers, they are beneficial in that they take up less space, are easy to clean and require less cash-handling due to an automated till.
The union insists that by restricting a grocery store’s number of self-checkout kiosks it is, in turn, protecting workers, specifically women and minorities, who often work as cashiers.
AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain said the measure is about jobs and compared it to Oregon banning self-service gas stations.
The union also cites other reasons for limiting self-checkout, such as increasing social interactions in communities, reducing thefts and preventing teenage alcohol sales.
However, the main push for this government regulation on the private sector is undoubtedly the union’s insatiable desire to collect dues. Several popular grocery store chains in Oregon are unionized and restricting self-checkout would create an increase in union-represented cashiers.
While the union claims this would prevent employees from being replaced by machines, it might be advantageous to look at why automation is becoming more prevalent in the first place.
Automating positions requiring minimal skill is nothing new anywhere in the country, but if it seems to be happening more commonly in Oregon than other regions, the unions have only themselves to blame. After all, they’re the ones who push for higher wages and burdensome labor regulations — all of which come at a cost.
Union leaders assure their members the company can easily absorb the increases, and perhaps a few can. But in a free market economy, most employers are already operating on the narrowest margins possible in order to keep pace with the competition. When costs are increased to cover arbitrarily imposed pay raises, the business can only raise prices and hope consumers will take up the slack.
When they don’t, the employer is forced to find other answers. Like reducing hours, hiring fewer employees and automating tasks that don’t require a human to perform them.
One example, implementing kiosks that can reduce the need of employees in the workplace — including union-represented cashiers.
Not surprisingly, the union leaders’ response is the heavy hand of government.
Unfortunately for them, people can be regulated, but the forces of nature can’t.
The laws of economics are no different than the laws of gravity. You can’t just ask the governor to sign a piece of paper suspending them, and the result of believing otherwise can be catastrophic.
Sooner or later, the bill comes due. And when there are no profits to pay it, the business folds, throwing people out of work.
Hopefully Oregon voters will see through the union lies this time and reject the AFL-CIO’s latest attempt to defy reality. In fact, self-serve kiosks aren’t the problem. They’re simply a logical reaction to the imposition of higher costs by people who have neither the capacity nor the inclination to worry about the consequences of their actions in the real world.
Automation isn’t the problem. Unions are … and acquiescing to their latest demand will only ensure more of the same.