Grocery stores

Don't Hate Me Because I Bag My Own Groceries

According to a proposed Oregon ballot initiative, I am contributing to unemployment, social isolation, and underage drinking.


When I buy groceries, I almost always use the self-checkout line. I confess that I did not contemplate the broader social and economic implications of my choice until Tom Chamberlain enlightened me.

Chamberlain, who is president of the Oregon AFL-CIO, last week announced that his organization will soon be collecting signatures for a ballot initiative that would prohibit grocery stores from operating more than two self-checkout stations at a time. His arguments for imposing that restriction point the way to a world in which efficiency-boosting innovations are automatically suspect, no matter how popular they may prove to be.

Chamberlain's Grocery Store Service and Community Protection Act complains that "self-service checkouts essentially turn customers into unpaid employees." But if shoppers universally rebelled at the notion of scanning and bagging their own groceries, a law like this would hardly be necessary.

Personally, I prefer self-checkout because I like to organize my groceries logically, which makes it easier to put them away once I get home. And although I am pretty good at chitchat (a skill developed during the years when self-checkout lines were less common), I'd just as soon avoid the effort.

I recognize that other people do not necessarily share my preferences. "Grocery stores provide many people with their primary place of social connection and sense of community," says Chamberlain's ballot initiative, which argues that "the increasing use of self-service checkouts…contributes to social isolation and related negative health consequences."

Since grocery stores with self-checkout lines still provide live cashiers for people who relish small talk, this objection seems suspect. Chamberlain does not want to assure the availability of a social connection at the supermarket so much as limit the options of shoppers who find companionship elsewhere.

Equally dubious is the Oregon AFL-CIO's claim that "self-service checkouts are often used by teens to purchase alcohol." When I buy beer or wine in the self-checkout line, an employee comes around to verify my age, so this hardly seems like an insoluble problem.

In case you are not convinced that self-checkout machines lead to social isolation and rampant adolescent alcoholism, the Oregon AFL-CIO, getting closer to the heart of its complaint, also argues that they hurt employees (and union membership) by undermining morale, eliminating jobs, and replacing full-time with part-time positions. Furthermore, "the increasing use of self-service checkouts has a disproportionate negative impact on people of color."

Evidently shoppers who use the self-checkout line are not only antisocial; they may also be racist, or at least racially insensitive. Yet Chamberlain's logic condemns not just self-checkout stations at grocery stores but all manner of innovations that boost efficiency, reduce prices, and increase consumer satisfaction.

As my Reason colleague Christian Britschgi recently noted, the self-service grocery stores that Americans have come to take for granted since the early 20th century, which allow them to pick their own purchases rather than relying on clerks to fetch them, likewise eliminated certain jobs while saving time and money. Grocery shoppers, especially those of modest means, also have benefited from the enormous increases in agricultural productivity that reduced food prices while making it possible to feed a growing population even as the number of Americans working on farms fell from 12 million in 1910 to fewer than 2 million today.

If "lost jobs" were a sound reason to dictate what products and services businesses may offer, we would have to do without a long list of modern conveniences, including ATMs, vending machines, fast-food restaurants, computers, smartphones, streaming video, electronic books, and online retailing. Yet such innovations are ultimately good for employees as well as consumers: They may eliminate jobs, but they also create jobs both directly and indirectly, leaving consumers and businesses with more money to spend and invest.

Assuming that the AFL-CIO's initiative qualifies for the 2020 ballot, can we count on Oregonians to see through its economic illogic? Since it is still illegal in most of Oregon to pump your own gas, maybe not.

© Copyright 2019 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  1. “Grocery stores provide many people with their primary place of social connection and sense of community,”

    And they have their social connection IN THE MIDDLE OF THE AISLES and other chokepoints, oblivious to all the people who go to the grocery store to (gasp) buy groceries!!!!!

    1. Very important, those social connections.

      Where else are you going to be able to believably accuse a milquetoast white Democrat of racism and xenophobia?

      1. White privilege is this ages version of the white savior complex, so it seems fairly credible to me.

    2. Good point. Even the managers sometimes hold a convention in the aisles. Maybe they are trying to force everyone to use the Internet to buy food so they can save on costs.

  2. Since grocery stores with self-checkout lines still provide live cashiers for people who relish small talk, this objection seems suspect.

    I was a cashier decades ago. The people may relish small talk. Most cashiers don’t. Stores (at least back then) tracked the number of items scanned per minute. This slowed us down.

    1. And it slows down the people waiting in line behind those customers too.

      1. Yes it does. Especially in express lines.

    2. I was a cashier at a Super Kmart in the 90s. Cash awards were handed out to speediest cashiers.

      1. Must have been a low bar to achieve.

      2. My observation was that the slowest cashier was always put on the “express” line.

    3. I always look forward to standing in line waiting for the guy ahead of me to finish gossiping about his neighbors and how their grass needs trimming.

    1. Someone wrote something.

    2. You’re going to say something like that? ON 9/11????!?!?


  3. Grocery stores provide many people with their primary place of social connection and sense of community,
    And self-checkout is for when I don’t want to get stuck behind one of those folks.

    1. “Grocery stores provide many people with their primary place of social connection and sense of community,”

      In skimming the article (I try to not just jump right to the comments), I missed this gem. Just wow…who are these people for whom the Publix is the center of their social lives?

      1. Senior citizens, all of whom live in the same retirement community.

        1. That doesn’t make sense. *Those* senior citizens are too busy boning each other in between refilling Viagra prescriptions.

          It the senior citizens who aren’t living in retirement communities but rejected social connections all their lives. Now they’re old, children won’t come back.

      2. I don’t know who they are, but now that I know about these victims of modern technology I am overwhelmed with sympathy and sadness and stand fully ready to spend more time in line to benefit their social well being!

        FFS. I think politicians just wanna see if anyone is paying attention when they say stupid shit these days.

        1. Or union leaders.

        2. I would think the appropriate solution is for government to institute a corps of paid companions. That way government gets more power, I pay more taxes – but I don’t have to life a finger to help a fellow human.


    2. Even worse when one of these “people persons” starts to rummage around in their shabby macrame shoulder bag and then pulls out a checkbook.

      1. I will have to admit I have never seen anyone do that since the late 1990’s. I think that scourge is finally ended.

        1. The elderly still do. You must live in a “young” part of the country. We still have about 10 more years of this, but the incidents become fewer and fewer every year.

          1. Nah. I live in SW Arizona. We are neither young nor hip.

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  5. Large cart full of groceries, I use the check out lines with a cashier, and have my groceries bagged, though I have to wait in line.
    Few items, I use the self check out, I can walk right up, check out and bag my stuff, no waiting, and I am out the door.
    Nothing to do with social connection, more to do with time efficiency.

    1. “Grocery stores provide many people with their primary place of social connection and sense of community,”
      “self-service checkouts essentially turn customers into unpaid employees.”

      Such a load of bullshit coming from some asshole who is afraid union dues will decline and perhaps his union perks.

      1. When you compare Kroger to Amazon, going around the store wheeling my own grocery cart and selecting my own food makes me an unpaid employee, too.

        But when you compare either Kroger or Amazon to McDonald’s, having to cook my own food makes me even more of an unpaid employee. And don’t get me started on being my own chauffeur, my own valet, my own maid and my own sex worker. Jesus, I ought to be in jail the way I treat myself as an employee.

        1. Jesus, I ought to be in jail the way I treat myself as an employee.

          I make the kids retrieve the items and bag the groceries. I can’t wait for the day when I can make them drive too.

          Farm out the sex worker job and the rest take care of themselves.

    2. Bingo.

      And more people than not have fewer items than lots of items, especially in urban areas where carrying bags to apartments/condos is most beneficial with fewer bags/trips.

  6. Will Oregon ban wanking your own crank? Hurts employment.

    1. Hoes gotta eat too.

    2. From my warm, slightly numbed hand!

  7. At the Walmart nearest me, the issue is too few self-checkout lines – at least during peak demand.

    But the bit that tweaked my interest was the AFL-CIO’s assertion that self-checkout is racist. At first I dismissed the suggestion as just plain silly – but then I pondered my experience at that Walmart, where there is a fairly large African-American component to the clientele.

    Now that I think about it, the self-checkout line is noticeably whiter than the regular lines. It is more the Hispanics that seem to avoid self-checkout than African Americans, but it subjectively seems that they prefer the full-service lines as well.

    I’m not sure exactly how this is an example of white privilege, but I’m sure it is in there somewhere.

    1. The suggestion that self-check lines are racist is a racist comment. Basically the asshole is saying people of color are not smart enough to use self service.

      1. I think his point was that minorities are more heavily represented in the low-skilled labor pool from which supermarket employees are drawn. So yeah, racist, but probably true at the same time, somehow.

    2. Thinking about it, that is the same in the Walmart by me. But I think the Hispanics avoid it because a large percentage can’t read english so have a very hard time following the directions on the self checkout machines. Not being racist here. I have watched several Hispanic families have a very young member translate the screen so the adult could use it.

      1. That was my thought as well… and your experience matches mine. They’ll sometimes even have a 6 year old handling the cash – because they can speak English and talk to the cashier. In my area those are mostly the central American recent arrivals.

        But every now and then we get some eastern European new arrivals who have a similar issue. A few years back I was at the grocery when a family who were refugees from Georgia were shopping with their government voucher. The mom clearly had no idea what to do – and the grocery store staff didn’t recognize the problem. The lady ended up grabbing something like a half-dozen boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes and not much else. The cashier tried to explain that she could get other stuff – but the language barrier was too much.

        I ended up walking her around the store and helping her fill out the list of items she was allowed to purchase. In her defense, the voucher was almost impossible to decipher as an English speaker with an advanced degree. I can’t imagine trying to figure that thing out in a foreign language.

        1. “I ended up walking her around the store and helping her fill out the list of items she was allowed to purchase.”

          Good for you!

      2. That’s a little weird. If the store has a significant number of Hispanic customers, I’d expect the machines to include instructions in Spanish. I’m pretty sure the self-check kiosks at my local Wally World are bilingual.

        1. Central American adult literacy rates aren’t that high, and the immigrants from those counties are likely below the national average.

          1. African-American literacy rates aren’t that high in some neighborhoods.

            1. See the emails written by Antonio Brown to his accuser.

              1. They have the look of voice-to-text.

          2. Some central American immigrants speak Spanish as a second language, and cannot read it, with their native tongue being an indigent ( Maya) language.

            1. I think ‘indigenous’ is the word you’re looking for; ‘Indigent’ means ‘needy’ or ‘poor.’ Hope this helps …. Otherwise … damn spellcheck!

      3. What? Your self check out machines don’t have a choice of language?

        1. As other posters have suggested, text in two or more languages is no help to those who are illiterate in all languages.

      4. Language is one barrier. Payment methods is the other. Credit is racist, cash isn’t.

        1. Payment methods is the other.

          Well, *an* other.

        2. And here I thought they meant that if a racist black person saw a white cashier they could avoid the interaction by using the self-checkout.

        3. Walmart’s self-checkout takes cash.

          1. Pretty much all of them take cash, possibly by unspoken law. I know ‘self-checkout’ change machines and vending machines have been taking cash since before credit cards were a thing.

            I didn’t mean to indicate that it was an insurmountable barrier (or that credit really is racist) just a bias, even if only an artifact of other underlying bias. Cash is cash is cash, but if you don’t speak the language the machine offering you the choice of paying with your store-brand credit card, contractor card, other credit card, debit card, other prepaid card, check, or cash gets needlessly complicated.

      5. My Walmart is 85% hispanics – they handle self-checkout just fine.

        Even if they have a poor grasp of english, it doesn’t require much. Scan items, it tells you the price, knowing a few key words is enough to know which button to press when.

        That technique has worked for me way back in the dark days in Europe when I had to use things like ATMs without English options.

        And there’s always a clerk there to help people.

        1. And my self-checkout lanes have a multi-language option.

  8. According to a proposed Oregon ballot initiative, I am contributing to unemployment, social isolation, and underage drinking.

    Sometimes when I’m in the store I’ll straighten the shelves a little bit just to contribute to opioid addiction, teen sex trafficking and parking in a loading zone. I’m evil that way.

    1. I thought I just did that because I used to work retail as a teenager / young adult.

      I had no idea what a deviant I really was.

    2. How do you handle that without the shelves exploding into flames like Oregon gas stations are prone to?

  9. I don’t hate you because you use self check out; I hate you because you stay in Oregon, and contribute to politicians getting elected there.

    1. Doesn’t Sullum live in Israel?

      1. Texas. Well, kinda the same thing. They have autonomy now but it is controversial.

  10. Self checkout lines. I find them faster and I don’t get a bag of apples dumped on top of my loaf of bread. When employees can be replaced by customers, with no training, who can do the job faster and better they are jobs that should not exist.

    1. I’m pretty sure the average checkout clerk at Meijer is faster than the average customer at self-checkout – especially when the machines keep halting and waiting for the attendant to certify that I’m old enough to buy a decongestant, or because they misread the scales under the bagging area. However, they can fit twice as many self-checkouts into the same space, at a lower operating cost. That more than makes up for slower operation.

      When there are 1 or 2 people in line waiting for about 8 self-checkouts, every manned checkout lane has a line of 3 or more waiting on one clerk. Even if everyone ahead of me is 85 years old, I’ll get through self-checkout much faster – except when I have a huge cart load that can be expected to generate multiple problems if I try to take it through self-checkout.

  11. I hate Kroger for several reasons, but mostly because of their trashy union employees. Certainly as a result of the union, they have more self checkout lanes than anyone.

    You’d have to point a shotgun at my pecker before I’d move to Oregon.

    1. Their self-checkout machines also have one of the worst user interfaces out there.

    2. the chicks are worth Oregon.

      1. Even my Bernie Sanders loving progressive sister in law fled Portland because of its derp level. She moved back to Idaho to be around “real” people as she put it.

        1. Then again her new husband is a two tour Marine veteran who loves guns and served in a scout sniper platoon his last time in the sandbox.

  12. Dey took er jobs!

  13. Yeah, God forbid a grownup might actually do something for himself. It might be catching! And then our entire social contract will unravel!

  14. Oh, and Mr. AFL-CIO may not need to worry much longer. It seems that the big retailers are starting to move more and more toward online interactions. Our local Walmart and Target stores have drive-up service where you shop online and store workers take a cart around and fill it with your stuff, checking you out and even bring everything right to the curb and load it into your car.

    This actually requires more workers than just a checkout person… so maybe just hang on as the innovation wheel spins.

    1. From Britchsgi’s article on 9/6:

      “Indeed, the arguments advanced by the Oregon AFL-CIO’s ballot initiative could just have been deployed a century ago to prevent grocery stores from transitioning to modern, human-staffed checkout aisles the group is now trying to preserve. Back in the day, customers had to wait on grocery store staff to assemble their orders for them.”

      And now we’ve circled back to the beginning as technology increases the efficiency of this option.

    2. I am actually seriously considering switching to doing most of my shopping at Costco.

      Its 20 miles away (vice the 10 Walmart is) but you can order online, pay, and they’ll have everything ready for pickup when you arrive.

      You can even just wander around the store, pick stuff up, pay with the app, and then leave. No lines.

      1. Imagine what the union’s going to do when that stuff becomes affordable to more stores.

    3. Cashwise in Williston, ND has pick up delivery as well.

      1. And I love the self serve kiosk at McDonald’s. Order, go sit down and they bring the food to your table, like it’s a restaurant bit something.

    4. I wonder how long before the AFL-CIO or some other enterprising union figures out how to unionize robots.

  15. Wasn’t Oregon like NJ in that people could not be trusted to pump their own gas? I think that changed only very recently. I wonder if there were people for whom getting their fuel was the social center of their lives?

    1. Not only was that a recent change, it was limited to only 15 of the most rural counties (plus another three that can only self-pump between 6 pm and 6 am). The hoity toity in Oregon’s cultural centers are apparently still too incompetent to ever be trusted with a gas pump.

      1. Well have you ever been to Portland, Astoria or Salem?

        1. Just saying, Oregon may actually be on to something there.

  16. I’m surprised Oregon let’s people cook their own meals at home, do their own laundry, mow their own lawns, or clean their own toilets. Think of all the jobs that they are taking away from chefs, launderers, landscapers, and maids!? Not to mention the humanizing effect of talking to all the employees as they come into the house every day.

    1. Arg. Need an edit button! Not “let’s”, “lets”.

    2. And talk about the dangers these people face daily. I mean, they can’t even be trusted to safely pump their own gas but they can boil water freely?


  17. So, how does Comrade Chamberlin feel about the emerging technology that eliminates checkouts completely?

  18. Grocery store/Walmart self-checkouts have their place. Home Depot recently went ALL self-checkout (except for contractor customers) and it’s exposed the fact that a large majority of HD shoppers are self-absorbed idiots. Thank gd for Lowes.

    1. could you imagine that a home depot with all robots and no one to ask questions of. never mind there is never anyone around to answer questions now

    2. I was at Home Depot last week. They absolutely have cashiers.

  19. love a skirt and boots.

      1. +1 human fly. i don’t know if my redhead inclination is instinctive or learned, but Ivy was one of the first i noticed.

        1. It’s hard not to notice Ivy.

      1. yes, i got somethin’ for you, Nancy.

  20. While they are at it why not get rid of the UPC scanner systems and demand a return to the more labor intensive system of price stickers/stampers and ringing up the price manually.

    I’ll just show myself out.

  21. Wait till California gets around to this. They’ll simply declare self baggers store employees and tag on automatic union dues.

    1. Either that, or you’ll see 2 union goons and an inflatable rat by the self-checkouts.

  22. “According to a proposed Oregon ballot initiative, I am contributing to unemployment, social isolation, and underage drinking.”

    Yes, I believe this, and have taken it to heart. Just the other day, I was actively engaged in a socio-philosophical discussion with the checker who was attempting to accurately ring-up my produce.

    After about fifteen minutes of sharing my views and pointing out the weaknesses in the checker’s viewpoint, the customers standing in line waiting to leave the store killed me, and I am dead. I understand no charges will be filed.

  23. I despise self checkout lines. Another corporate money grab disguised as offering the customer some inconceivable convenience.

    1. I almost never use them, which is one reason I very seldom shop at Wally World. On the other hand, I am not going to tell them how to run their business.

    2. Self checkout lines are necessary when you have four items and every cashier line (usually two open cashier lines out of 12 possible) has people with 800 items in their basket.

    3. It meets both criteria, so how is it a bad thing?

    4. You take each item out of your basket/cart, move it over the scanner, then directly into the bag. It’s not that hard. If you bag your own groceries in a regular line, it’s actually easier.

  24. If these people get their only social interaction at grocery stores…then they’re not social people in general. They clearly aren’t getting social interaction at the thousands of other places in the community.

    There is no requirement that people need to be social at a grocery store.

    Most stores staff minimum cashiers, so the secondary effect will be longer cashier lines and longer self check out lines.

    Kudos, Oregon labor leaders, for being so f’ing stupid.

  25. “According to a proposed Oregon ballot initiative, I am contributing to unemployment, social isolation, and underage drinking.”

    This is true if you bag your own groceries.
    Studies from Columbia, Harvard and Yale agree: Bagging your own groceries will also cause terrorist attacks, acne, air pollution, poverty in third world nations, tsunamis, divorce, bankruptcy, uncontrolled and immediate diarrhea, multiple sclerosis, and bad television to be aired nightly.
    You’ve been warned.

  26. What if I order groceries online and cook my own food at home? What kind of a monster would I be?

  27. >Chamberlain’s Grocery Store Service and Community Protection Act complains that “self-service checkouts essentially turn customers into unpaid employees.”

    What nonsense. That’s like complaining that when I change the oil in my car or cook my own dinner, I essentially become an unpaid employee of an automotive repair shop or a restaurant!

    I argue that these kinds of protectionist laws wield the force of the state’s guns to the heads of people engaging in voluntary free commerce! The AFL-CIO is a gang of thugs and Mr. Chamberlain is one of their violent godfathers.

    I don’t like being shaken-down by mobsters so I left Oregon years ago. I’ve enjoyed pumping every tank of gasoline that I’ve burned since leaving Oregon! It’s been one of the best liberties I’ve gained by leaving (OR and NJ are the two “no self serve” states), because the jack assess that can’t get jobs flipping burgers drove me nuts in the welfare program of the Oregon gas pumps on a nearly daily basis.

  28. I confess that I do worry that we are automating all the job out of existence and so I typically will use the store line with checkout clerk. The upside of this is that self checkout lines are usually longer. There always someone in the self check out line that really cannot correctly use it and so they slow down the line. In the end I figure I break even on the time. And the upside is I can read the National Inquirer while I wait in line and get the real news.

    1. I actually timed it at Kroger. Self checkout does not save time if my groceries are more than can fit in a hand-held basket . THe cashier rolling belt is waaay faster than the self-checkout “pick-scan-drop” routine. If there is not bagger in the cashier line, I bag while the cashier scans. Unless the person in front of me is using coupons. In which case it is time to whip out the phone and read Hit and Run .

      1. Walmart has self checkouts with the belt roller for larger orders.

  29. smash that loom!

    1. Should I throw my wooden shoes into the gears?

  30. We need to save the jobs of the professional checkers and baggers. You know, the ones who have to ask 3 people what the code is for your produce item – after you told them its name and product code. And, what about the baggers? They know that watermelons belong on top of tomatoes and raspberries. Maybe that’s why I prefer the self check.

  31. I usually go through the person checkouts. I suppose if I was the one ringing the register, I would hope that enough customers would come through so I could keep my job. Sometimes there is no bagger, so I chip in. However, when it come to unions saving jobs, they have a very poor record. I.E…the steel and auto industries. And government cannot force a company to provide a service that it cannot afford to provide. I don’t know all the dynamics that go into the food selling business, but like the $15 minimum wage, it cannot be forced upon a business without some repercussions and unintended results, like fewer jobs and fewer working hours. Anyway, now that I am a permanent faster, I am shopping only half the time I used to. But, I still don’t like a person losing a job because of some silly politician who thinks he knows how the real world works. They don’t…not a one of ’em.

  32. If you don’t want a world in which improvements in efficiency are
    automatically suspect, arrange a world in which these benefit everyone,
    instead of exacerbating enormous inequality.

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