Following its recent strike against New England’s Stop & Shop, the UFCW is dismayed Marty the Robot is making its way into more stores.
The last several decades have not been kind to the United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW), the main union in the grocery retail industry.
When not battling Walmart’s (and other non-union competitors’) incursions into its industry, the UFCW has watched the advent of self-checkout scanners replacing union checkers and baggers.
Now, mere weeks after the union “won” a large strike against New England’s Stop & Shop, the UFCW is facing more automation as Stop & Shop parent Ahold Delhaize dispatches Marty the Robot to more of its stores, according to the Boston Globe:
Marty is not some teenager working an after-school shift. It is 140 pounds of plastic and metal, with glowing lights atop a towering frame with big cartoon eyes, and cameras and lasers to spot garbage, spills, and other stuff that shouldn’t be in the aisles of a supermarket.
The $35,000 machine is one of about 500 robots that Stop & Shop’s owner, the Dutch company Ahold Delhaize, has deployed in some of its US grocery stores. And in the process, Ahold is doing its part to normalize robots in public places.
For instance, the rise of robots may threaten the jobs of millions of workers, such as those who went on strike earlier this year at Marty’s home base, Stop & Shop. Erikka Knuti, communications director for the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union, said her group is all for technological innovation, but she said the company should invest in people first.
“For $35,000 you can get a worker who can do a lot more than stop and stare at a spill,” said Knuti. “Human beings are still social animals. When people go to the stores, they want customer service.”
Unfortunately, the UFCW’s Knuti is just wrong.
With the exception of maintenance costs, a $35,000 investment into a robot is a one-time cost.
Robots do not call in sick, it has no retirement costs, no health-care costs and, of course, robots do not go out on strike.
Although Marty the Robot’s mission right now is confined to spotting spills in aisles, it won’t end there, as this video indicates.
To make matters worse for the UFCW, Walmart is “deploying hundreds of machines to scrub the floors of its stores and take inventory by scanning the shelves,” the Boston Globe notes.
“When you have actual people being replaced by self-checkout machines and Marty the robot there’s definitely an underlying sentiment that Ahold does not value its workers,” UFCW spokesperson Amy Ritter stated back in March.
Within weeks of Ritter’s statement, the UFCW and its 30,000 members in New England went out on strike for 11 days.
Despite capitulating on several of Stop & Shop’s key bargaining goals, the UFCW claimed the strike resulted in a victory.
Marty the Robot, however, may get the last (automated) laugh.