The president of the NW Grocery Association says an initiative petition to limit the number of self-checkout machines in grocery stores is a tactic by organized labor to pressure Fred Meyer and other big stores into concessions during a wage impasse.
"I think it's a bargaining tactic," Joe Gilliam tells WW. "They are the table right now and so they have chosen it."
Workers at Fred Meyer, Albertsons, Safeway and QFC stores in Oregon and Southwest Washington voted Aug. 24 to authorize a strike over low wages and an alleged gender pay gap. Those employees are part of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 555.
This week, the Oregon AFL-CIO debuted a proposed ballot initiative that would limit any grocery store to two self-checkout machines.
Many large grocers have at least a dozen such machines at each store.
Gilliam oversees the industry group for grocers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho. He expressed skepticism about the initiative petition but said if the AFL-CIO moves forward, grocers will spend money to fight it at the ballot.
"It doesn't seem like the kind of issue you'd take to the ballot," he says. "It's not like PERS or tax reform. People vote every day in the way they shop—using their smart phone or going through check-out."
Tom Chamberlin, president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, denies that the possible strike and the initiative petition are related. "This is a response to the rapid expansion of self-checkout in the state," he said.
Chamberlin added that other states are developing task forces to look into the long-term effects of automation on the workforce. Oregon does not currently have a similar task force.
Nigel Jaquiss contributed reporting to this story.