Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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How to Fight Self-Checkout Lanes

Self-checkout lanes are spreading. Some people have been forced to use them, and the trend is that stores want to eliminate traditional cashier lanes altogether -- or at least reduce them to the point that the waiting line becomes prohibitive. Cashierless stores like Amazon Go are even worse, adding privacy violations to job destruction. Self-checkout lanes are just the camel's nose creeping into the tent.

These machines eliminate jobs that are currently done by human beings who need to earn money to survive. Most of those cashiers lack the education and skills to get better jobs, but some are underemployed because there are no better jobs in that area. We already have neighborhoods and even counties with few or no jobs; they're hideous; we don't need to make more of them. Right now, there are about 3,648,500 cashiers in America. In fact the top TWO occupations are sales clerks and cashiers. It's one of the shrinking number of jobs that requires no higher education or special skills; almost anyone can do it. People who have the ability to run a cash register do not necessarily have the ability to service a self-checkout machine, so direct transfer of workers from one job to another is not often possible. We need to preserve jobs that are just jobs, not a career, things that don't cost anything to enter and are available to almost everyone. We can avoid creating a massive crisis simply by maintaining the status quo.

Self-checkout lanes also reduce human interaction, and shopping is something that most people have to do on a frequent basis, so it guarantees at least a little facetime. For now. Meanwhile loneliness is skyrocketing, and it's more deadly than smoking and obesity. That means we need to do more to increase human interaction, and resist things that decrease it. This problem is entirely created by humans and can be solved by humans; we don't have to keep murdering people through isolation, and it is wrong to do so. We have created a society that is unhealthy for mind and body in many ways; we need to fix that. Our choices are what create it, so we need to choose mindfully things that bring us closer together. It is much easier to avoid making a foreseeable mistake than to fix it after the fact, making self-checkout lanes a prime target for activism.

And if you're not even going interact with people, if you have to use a machine you hate, why even bother going to the store? People have other alternatives now, and some are switching to online shopping instead. Stores are shooting themselves in the foot here. But it's a bad trade for most people: shopping typically means walking around a store for half an hour to an hour for a grocery trip, longer for recreational trips. People should aim to walk at least 150 minutes a week. (More is better.) If you cut out your grocery trip, do you really want to replace that with an hour of exercise at the gym? Most people don't. So defend the cashiers and keep shopping appealing.

Thus many people are calling for a boycott of self-checkout lanes.

Here some ways to fight back:

* Do you own a store or have strong influence at one? If you dislike self-checkout lanes and have none, advertise this fact to scoop shoppers driven away by your competitors. If you wish to have a self-checkout lane for reasons of accessibility, advertise it as such and note the ratio of self to cashier lanes.

* As much as feasible, shop at stores that do not have self-checkout lanes at all. Proportionally, these tend to be mom-and-pop shops more often than chain stores. Some are ethnic shops; you'll never see a self-checkout lane in an Amish store. Local businesses can support each other by making and posting a list of stores that avoid self-checkout lanes.

* Favor cooperative stores over corporate ones if you can. Owners, workers, and customers all come from the same pool of people which neatly avoids the trap of owners vs. workers. They don't need unions because they're not trying to screw each other, which saves both money and effort. Find food co-ops and other cooperative businesses near you.

* If you have to shop at a store with self-checkout lanes, don't use those, use cashier lanes. If the cashier lanes are closed, demand that one be opened for you. Speak to a manager if you must. BOTHER people. Become an absolute pain in the ass so that the easiest solution is to open that lane.

* If store employees try to force you into a self-checkout lane, abandon your purchases if you can afford to do so. Ask for a complaint form. Ask to see the store's written policy: they usually specify that customers have a right to service.

* Complain about self-checkout lanes loudly and often. Write letters. Make phone calls. Field petitions. File complaints in the stores.

* Recruit cashiers by quietly alerting them to how self-checkout lanes can take their jobs. Tell them things they can do to fight back. They are your natural allies.

* Support unions; they do a lot of good. Join a union or start one. If you have to argue with employees about a self-checkout lane, talk about how those things take jobs away from people and why workers should unionize to defend their jobs. Say the word "UNION" loudly and clearly. Many megastores are so hostile to unions that just broaching the topic can get people fired (which is technically illegal, but still common). This inspires employees to do whatever is necessary to make the topic go away. But who knows, maybe you'll put a bug in their ear.

* Support laws to limit the number of self-checkout lanes in a store. In an ideal world, stores with more than one lane could have one of each, and from there a small percentage of self-checkout to cashier lanes, the way a few parking spots are reserved as handicapped spaces. Specialty stores might apply for a variance if they can demonstrate their particular customer base prefers more self-checkout lanes, such as those catering to geeks or neurodiversity. This is one of our few opportunities to enjoy free choice between both options, without being forced to use or destroy one.

* Lobby your politicians to protect cashier jobs. Demand to know their stance on this issue. If they support self-checkout lanes, brand them as job-killers. Their opponents will have a field day with that in campaign ads.

* Are you a person who tends to fry technology just by going near it? Go near the machines! Touch them, even! Slay them! At least the stores in your area will have to think twice about using technology that breaks down every few days.

* Do you own a store or have strong influence at one? If you dislike self-checkout lanes and have none, advertise this fact to scoop shoppers driven away by your competitors. If you wish to have a self-checkout lane for reasons of accessibility, advertise it as such and note the ratio of self to cashier lanes.

* Boost the signal. Share this post. Whenever you hear someone complaining about self-checkout lanes, tell them ways of fighting back. Spread the word.

What are some other ways you can think of to fight self-checkout lanes?
Tags: activism, economics, shopping
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