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Future of Work Weekly Roundup: June 17

June 17, 2019 Updated: September 8, 2020

Abstract blur of warehouse with lot of stack of box for background

As America’s retail union, the UFCW represents hundreds of thousands of workers across North America’s largest industry. Trends in that industry impact not only our jobs, but our friends, neighbors and communities. That’s why, at the UFCW, we keep a close eye on automation and other evolving technologies in retail.

Here are the big stories we’re watching this week:

Retail Jobs Endangered by U.S. Threat of Mexico Tariff

  • American retail workers could face the threat of losing 136,516 jobs if the U.S. goes through with the threatened 5 percent tariff on all goods from Mexico. (6/5 CNN)
  • With more than 140,000 retail jobs lost since January 2017 and more than 11,000 retail jobs lost in March 2019 alone, jobs in the industry are already on the chopping block. Most industry experts point to the rise of e-commerce and automation as the reason for recent job losses in the retail sector. Retail is the backbone of the U.S. economy and now more than ever, these workers need policies that protect their jobs. (4/6 CNBC)

Amazon Go Competitor Pushes Cashless Tech for Big Retail

  •  Zippin, a cashierless tech startup, opened its San Francisco retail store this week and is already looking to partner with existing retailers to retrofit their stores with checkout free technology. (6/10 Payments Journal)
  • This technology could kill thousands of jobs and eliminate the customer service shoppers go to stores for in the first place. Zippin claims its “goal isn’t to put [workers] out of a job,” but the threat is undeniable. Zippin is already working with four major retailers and industry experts are already predicting major rollout could be just a year or two away. (6/12 San Francisco Eater)

New York City Cashless Ban Vote Expected This Summer 

  • New York could become the largest city to ban cashless stores like Amazon Go after San Francisco and Philadelphia passed similar bans earlier this year. “The goal is to protect populations who don’t own bank accounts…as well as senior consumers who are used to paying in cash,” according to the office of City Councilman Ritchie Torres.
  • Cashless stores also raise privacy concerns for consumers. “You don’t know how your data is going to be used, either by the store or by your bank. You can also be exposed to identity theft,” said Lauren Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center. (6/10 Bloomberg)

Walmart Self-Checkout Not User-Friendly for Blind Shoppers

  • A legally blind man shopping with his 7-year old daughter is being prosecuted after Walmart accused him of theft when using self-checkout. Walmart’s self-checkout kiosks “are not user-friendly for blind people” and this father is “perhaps the least likely person to even be capable” of theft “given that Walmart employees frequently help him with purchases, including some of the transactions in question.”  (6/9 New Hampshire Union-Leader)
  • In October, the National Federation of the Blind sued Walmart on behalf of three blind Maryland residents arguing that the self-checkout kiosks don’t fully comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In response to that suit, the company said it doesn’t tolerate discrimination and believe its checkout procedures comply with the law. This is just the latest example of how self-checkout machines are driven by profits, not helping customers. (6/11 Associated Press)

Number of the Week: 20 Percent


That’s the percentage of jobs in all industries that could be replaced with artificial intelligence in the next five years according to the annual survey of CIO’s by KPMG and Harvey Nash, a finding that could wreak “havoc” on jobs around the world. This is just the latest in a growing list of statistics pointing to the fallout that automation could have for the economy and millions of workers. (6/11 The Telegraph) 

These are the big stories in retail and automation we’re keeping an eye on. We’re always on the lookout for more though. If you have a tip for an article you saw or a personal story about how automation, AI or robotics has affected your job in the retail industry, tell us by emailing press@www.ufcw.org.

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