As seen in the Unity: Spring/Summer 2018 – President’s Report. See past copies of the Unity here.
Protecting jobs as technology changes the grocery industry
We can’t stop change, but we can channel it.
Our union has always believed that innovation can be a positive force in our industry, as long as the needs of working men and women are respected and protected.
As technology changes the grocery industry, it has the potential to increase convenience and efficiency for our members whether they’re at work or shopping as a customer. It’s our responsibility to guide that change.
Fortunately, Local 152 has a strong record of protecting jobs while working with employers to ensure that technology makes our lives better, not worse.
We’ll need to draw on that experience in the coming years, because retailers of all kinds are in a race for leadership in technological innovations that could add convenience for shoppers while potentially saving money on labor costs for retailers.
New changes, big questions
In some supermarkets, customers can order groceries online and pick them up the same day, without having to go into the store. Elsewhere, tech firms like Google, Peapod, HelloFresh and Uber are providing “personal shoppers” who bring food from the supermarket to the doorstep.
New changes to the traditional grocery shopping model are popping up every day. The big question for union members is how these changes could affect wages, benefits and working conditions. The worst outcome would be layoffs and reduced hours for employees. The best outcome would involve educating and training union workers to perform new tasks to improve shoppers’ experiences.
As time goes on, customers will become more demanding and discerning as employers raise their standards in competing for customers’ dollars. Meanwhile, unions will have an important role in maintaining and improving a professional, quality-oriented work force that is capable of meeting those higher standards.
Study after study shows shoppers will continue to prefer human interactions, even when other alternatives are more convenient. No robot delivery service can duplicate the experience of chatting with the produce clerks as they help us select our fruits and vegetables, and no app will replace the checker who lives in our neighborhood and grew up with our kids. There is no replacement for human interaction no matter how advanced the artificial intelligence gets.
Ultimately, no matter what advances in technology affect the industries we serve, we will succeed because of the men and women in this union. Our success depends on the solidarity and activism of everyone in our union. Get involved, be part of the solution and we will meet the challenges of the future together.