The largest union representing grocery-store workers has come out against Amazon.com’s launch of a store sans cashiers, a sign of how a recent generation of futuristic technology comes with a dose of angst for big parts of the workforce.
The largest union representing grocery-store workers has come out strongly against Amazon.com’s launch of a store sans cashiers, a sign of how a recent generation of futuristic technology comes with a dose of angst for big parts of the workforce.
“Amazon believes that America’s hardworking men and women are irrelevant to customers — they couldn’t be more wrong,” Marc Perrone, international president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), said in a statement released Tuesday.
Amazon on Monday unveiled a pilot store dubbed “Amazon Go” right in the middle of its downtown campus. So far it’s open only to employees who are part of a beta testing program, but the company said in 2017 the public will have access.
The store deploys a combination of technologies ranging from artificial intelligence to computer vision allowing shoppers to pick products from the shelves and walk out without lining up behind a register. Amazon says it’s technology that’s similar to what animates driverless cars.
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And just like driverless cars, which threaten to shake up the livelihoods of millions of truck, taxi and Uber drivers, Amazon Go is bound to trouble those who fear the displacement of millions of relatively low-skilled jobs in an economy where automation has already taken a toll on manufacturing employment. Cashiers are the second-largest occupation in America, to the tune of 3.5 million jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In a statement, Amazon said: “Getting rid of checkout lines is great for customers, and our associates are great for customers, too.”
The company said there’s plenty of stuff for people to do at an Amazon Go store. Store employees will work both the kitchen and the store, preparing food, greeting and helping customers and stocking shelves. “When the store is open to the public, customers will see a great group of store associates on the floor and in the kitchen.”
Amazon has come under criticism in the past for upending large swaths of the retail sector, from independent booksellers to mom-and-pop Main Street stores.
The company has argued that it’s creating plenty of opportunities for independent authors, merchants and startups that rely on its platforms. The company says that about half the items sold on its site are shipped by third-party sellers, many of which have lots of revenue and generate jobs.
“Amazon is masking its blind greed as progress,” the UFCW’s Perrone said, adding, “This is not about improving customer experience: it’s about destroying good jobs, with no regard to the families and communities impacted. This is not the America that hardworking families want and deserve.”