Food & Drink

California Is Looking to Regulate Self-Checkout Aisles

Whether you love them, hate them, or just wish they’d stop telling you to “place your items in the bagging area,” self-checkout lanes at supermarkets and other retailers seem like they’re here to stay. But a California lawmaker has proposed a bill that would regulate their use throughout the state and change things up for both customers and store employees. 

Earlier this year, Sen. Lola Smallwood-Cuevas proposed Senate Bill 1446, which she believed would benefit supermarket and retail workers and would also help prevent some of the thefts that occur when less-scrupulous shoppers use self-checkout. The bill would require stores that use self-checkout to designate employees to watch those lanes. Those employees would not be assigned to more than two self-checkout stations, and they would not have any other assignments or responsibilities other than eyeballing everything that shoppers scanned. 

“While it’s crucial to adapt to new technologies, protecting jobs and worker safety must be prioritized in the process,” Smallwood-Cuevas said. “SB 1446 will protect workers and the public by ensuring safe staffing levels at grocery and drug retail stores and regulating self-checkout machines.”

Under this proposed legislation, establishments would also be required to limit the use of self-checkout lanes to customers who were buying 10 items or fewer. As a result, stores would need to have at least one employee-operated checkout lane as well, to accommodate shoppers who need to purchase more than 10 things at a time. According to the Sacramento Bee, the bill is co-sponsored by the California Labor Federation, the Prosecutors Alliance of California, and the United Food and Commercial Workers, Western States Council. 

“Lone workers have become easy targets of theft and violence,” Smallwood-Cuevas told KTVU. “And they’re too often forced to stock merchandise, operate checkout, cater to customers, all while trying to monitor their stores for retail theft.” 

Unsurprisingly, the proposed legislation is not being unanimously embraced. It has been opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Grocers Association, and the California Retailers Association. And, in a letter expressing their concerns, those organizations said that it could “stifle business growth, innovation, and competitiveness in an increasingly digital economy.” The groups are also worried that asking retailers to “police the number of items going through self-checkout lanes” could cause “friction” between shoppers and employees. 

In its own separate letter, the California Grocers Association rejected Smallwood-Cuevas’ claims that self-checkout lanes have an impact on the number of human workers in supermarkets. “Grocery store operators make sure the workers who, otherwise would have been at the cash register, move to other departments to improve the customer experience,” the association wrote, per the Sacramento Bee. 

Regardless of what happens, you know that every self-checkout machine is still going to tell you that you didn’t scan all of your items. 

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