Cotter bill would establish limits on grocery self-checkouts
STATE HOUSE – Rep. Megan L. Cotter has introduced legislation that would establish limits on self-checkout lanes at grocery stores in Rhode Island.
The bill is meant to start a conversation about corporations’ ever-increasing use of self-checkout lanes to reduce the employment of cashiers, said Representative Cotter (D-Dist. 39, Exeter, Hopkinton, Richmond).
“In addition to the frustration and inconvenience self-checkouts represent to many shoppers, this is mainly a jobs issue. Self-checkouts are specifically used to reduce the number of people that stores employ, and the number of hours that their employees work. The big corporations that own grocery chains no doubt hope the public will just slowly continue to accept this effort, but I’m hoping this bill will start a discussion so Rhode Islanders have a chance to voice their concerns in a place where these corporations will hear them,” said Representative Cotter.
Representative Cotter said she introduced the bill in large part of out concern for those who work as cashiers, and also for customers, many of whom benefit from the social interactions they have in the community with people like cashiers.
The legislation (2023-H 5161) would restrict grocery stores from having more than eight self-checkouts operating at once, and require that those with self-checkouts also have a minimum of one staffed checkout per self-checkout.
Additionally, the legislation would require that grocery stores give customers a 10-percent discount for checking out their groceries themselves if the order involves 10 or more items.
“Self-checkout is a way grocery stores are avoiding paying employees by getting customers to do cashiers’ jobs for free. It seems only fair that if they are going to take on cashiers’ work, the customer should get something in return,” said Representative Cotter.
The legislation points to the proliferation of self-checkouts as a force that isolates the elderly, who tend to struggle more with the technology and, in many cases, benefit the social interaction with cashiers. It also points out that increased use of self-checkouts has allowed grocery stores to rely more heavily on part-time employees, positions which do not provide retail workers with a living wage or access to benefits. There are costs to the public as well, since many retail workers, particularly those with a part-time schedule, qualify and receive income-based public benefits such as food stamps (formally known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits or "SNAP"), and subsidized health care. Additionally, the move disproportionately harms people of color, who are overrepresented in cashier positions, typically the lowest-paid positions in retail businesses.
Representative Cotter said she doesn’t necessarily expect the legislation to be enacted exactly as currently written; she introduced the legislation as a starting point, and looks forward to the public discussion that will be raised as a result.
“While many people use self-checkout regularly, there are also many people who want the advantages of checking out with a real human being. Stores keep making that harder to do by operating fewer and fewer staffed checkouts and keeping those the lines long to push people toward the self-checkout whether they like it or not. I look forward to hearings on this bill so people have a chance to speak up for their preferences and for jobs,” she said.