Arnold Kling  

Grocery Workers Strike?

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The grocery workers in the Washington DC area are thinking about going on strike.

The president of the union representing 18,000 Washington area Giant Food and Safeway Inc. employees believes "there is a serious possibility" that upcoming contract negotiations will break down, possibly resulting in a strike against one or both supermarket chains.

Meanwhile, Virginia Postrel reports,

A number of readers wrote in response to my post about hand-held scanners that let you ring up your groceries as you shop.

...It's pretty clear that grocery checkout clerks are going to go the way of bank tellers. They won't disappear altogether, but there will be many fewer of them. Grocery employees will have to add value to the customer's experience, not simply process their purchases.

For Discussion. What would you do if you were the head of the grocery-workers union?

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CATEGORIES: Labor Market

COMMENTS (10 to date)
Ronnie Horesh writes:

"What would you do if you were the head of the grocery-workers union?"

I would take it that my job was to represent the interets of my members as human beings, rather than grocery workers, and lobby for generous retraining grants and redundancy payments.

Mcwop writes:

I use the Self checkout at every grocery visit, and I use it at Home Depot too. I will add one other thing - RFID's are coming.

Alex Moon writes:

Smash some looms.

Daniel Franks writes:

I'd encourage my fellow union members to think about adding value to the grocery shopping experience; for example, after losing checkout jobs to self-serve scanners, consider providing home delivery of grocery items that shoppers purchase online (this might include regular, repeat purchases--canned/boxed/bottled items, as opposed to more variable items like fruits & veggies).

Safeway et. al. can't compete w/Walmart superstores on the price of groceries; their unionized workers better provide some "new" service/convenience...

Eric Krieg writes:

Walmart Supercenters aren't in every market. There are some markets that are dominated by unionized grocery stores. DC may be one of them, Chicago certainly is. In those markets where unions dominate, unions still have a lot of power, and strikes may work, hand scanners or not.

Based on the success of Best Buy, I don't think that consumers value service very much. Price is everything. I mean, what kind of a person buys a $5000 plasma television from a pimply, stupid, slothful teenage sales monkey? Yet Best Buy sells more plasmas than anyone. Go figure.

Brad Hutchings writes:

There are several things I would do. First, I would take a week-long trip to Disneyland and fit in 20 minutes for coffee with the IDIOT local grocery union leaders who took Ralph's, Vons, and Albertson's workers out on strike in SoCal. These leaders lied to their members about what was and wasn't in the stores' offers, then had them on strike for over 3 months, and got zero concessions.

Next, I would hire me as a tour guide of a store that has these self-scanning stations. Our Home Depot has them, and I am 30 minutes south of Disneyland. I even know people who are in unions, so I'm not your typical Republican-leaning management-favoring capitalist pig oppressor. Not being sexist here, but I have observed that they generally work best for male customers with no kids tagging along buying small, light to medium weight items. These machines confuse women, parents, older people, and people with 50 pound bags of whatever. Frankly, I dislike them because they thwart any opportunity of flirting with a cute girl at the checkstand or in line.

In fact, my bet used to be that the self-scan stations would be out of the store within a year. But they are convenient when I just have a few items. My bet now is that they account for 20% - 40% of customer checkouts over the long term. If that makes them economical and convenient (e.g. the 15 items or less line), then they will have a permanent place. If not, the workers have zero to worry about.


Sandy P. writes:

You still need a worker to monitor the self-scanners.

I've had more than one blooper. And they really need to lengthen the time you can remove your bag from the bagging area.

Boonton writes:

Are cashiers even unionized in most union groceries? I thought most of the jobs in a grocery store take place 'behind' the cashier...unloading shipments, meat cutters, delli clerks, bakers etc. These jobs are not so easily replaced by handheld scanners.

Eric Krieg writes:

B, cashiers are definitely unionized. I was a teenage cash register monkey at good old Pathmark, and I was forced to pay union dues. It is a huge scam to get part time teenage workers to pay union dues.

Don't turn your nose up at retailer productivity. Warehousing and retail made huge productivity gains in the 1990s, embodied in Walmart and their embrace of IT. RFIDs offer the chance to build on those gains.

Boonton writes:

I don't doubt that cashiers are unionized, I'm just pointing out that I don't think they are really the plum jobs. The plum jobs take place behind the scenes, the meat cutters, bakers, people stocking the shelves etc. These jobs can be made more productive but they can't be wiped out by scanners. We haven't got to the point where the meat walks itself into the fridge.

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