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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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California self-checkout bill passes committee, continues legislative trek

The bill would require one employee for every two self-checkout machines, though large warehouse retailers that require a membership would be exempt.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — A bill that would require California grocery stores to have an employee for every two self-checkout machines, and limit customers to 15 items at those points, passed yet another hurdle Wednesday.

Senator Lola Smallwood-Cuevas, a Los Angeles Democrat, argued that stores have cut staff over the past few years. Clerks in some cases now must serve other customers while monitoring multiple self-checkout machines.

Staffing issues have happened as self-checkouts became a focus point for shoplifters. According to Smallwood-Cuevas, the machines enable the loss of $10 billion in revenue each year.

Senate Bill 1446 seeks to change that.

“This bill does not ban self-checkout,” Smallwood-Cuevas emphasized. “That is misinformation.”

The bill wouldn’t affect large warehouse retailers that require a membership.

The legislation also would require stores to provide notice to workers and the public when they intend to implement new technology, like the use of digital smart cards.

The bill on Wednesday passed the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee. It now advances to the Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee.

While not yet law, at least one store in the Sacramento area already has a sign informing customers that there’s around a 15-item limit at self-checkout.

Supporters of the legislation pointed to overworked employers and increasing retail theft.

Jassy Grewal, with the United Food Commercial Workers Western States Council, said workers must watch self-checkout machines while dealing with customer concerns.

“Self-checkout machines are notoriously glitchy,” she said.

Smallwood-Cuevas noted that 20 million Americans have stolen items while using self-checkout. They do it by switching labels on items or by not scanning all of them. In other cases, customers forget to scan an item and leave without paying.

Michel LeClerc, with North State Grocery, opposed the bill. He called his grocery stores “the little guy” that are 100% employee-owned with workers who want to keep customers happy.

“This measure is very antagonistic toward self-checkout,” he said.

For LeClerc, self-checkout is a boon that his company hasn’t used to reduce its workforce. Customers who have only a couple of items use it to avoid long lines at manual checkout. His stores have no item limit at self-checkout and theft isn’t an issue, he said.

Daniel Conway, with the California Grocers Association, said the bill would codify one of the worst outcomes of the Covid-19 pandemic — requiring workers to police customers. He also questioned why the bill isn’t part of a highly touted crime bill package if it was, in fact, about curbing retail theft.

That bill package, currently working its way through the legislative process, has drawn criticism from Republicans because of urgency and inoperability clauses added to it. If a November proposition passes and repeals Proposition 47, which reduced criminal penalties for certain crimes, the bill package would become inoperable.

Assemblymember Juan Alanis, a Modesto Republican, said it appeared the self-checkout bill should have gone to the Public Safety Committee. He questioned if any analysis on requiring more workers to monitor self-checkout will lead to price increases.

Grewal pointed to the $10 billion annual revenue loss stores are experiencing, saying that’s already led to price increases.

Assemblymember Heath Flora, a Lodi Republican, said the discussion about retail theft frustrated him.

“I would not use the retail theft conversation anymore,” he added. “Honestly, it’s kind of disingenuous.”

Instead, the bill is about increasing the number of employees in stores, Flora said.

Smallwood-Cuevas said the drive for the bill has come from employees who must deal with existing conditions of monitoring multiple self-checkout stations along with their other duties. They note that self-checkout is a major concern. Additionally, there’s 16 times more shrinkage — a measure of lost inventory as a percentage of sales — at self-checkout.

“Workers make our economy thrive,” she said. “That is a fact.”

Categories / Economy, Employment, Government

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