PORTLAND — A potential Oregon ballot initiative, if approved, would slow the roll of automation — starting at grocery store checkout lines.

The Oregon AFL-CIO, which represents the state’s unions, has submitted a measure for approval that would limit the number of self-checkout machines in stores to two.

Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain called self-checkout machines a “deliberate corporate strategy” to reduce labor costs and eliminate jobs. He said the speed of automation being introduced in the workplace is out of control and Oregonians are the ones hurt by this process.

“Not only do we need to pass this ballot measure to get on top of automation, we need to establish in this state a task force to look at automation as it relates to job loss and the quality of life for Oregonians” he stated.

The Northwest Grocery Association, a group that represents the grocery industry, said the measure is misguided and that customers increasingly prefer self-checkout lines for their speed and convenience. The association also contested the fact that self-checkout machines replace jobs.

Chamberlain predicted eliminating jobs in grocery stores will disproportionately affect women and people of color, noting that, for instance, 63% of such workers are women.

While the grocery industry contended that positions are being created elsewhere, Chamberlain isn’t convinced those additions can make up for the number of jobs lost each time a set of machines goes in.

“One checker overseeing two lines of machines that are sometimes eight checkouts each — those are jobs,” he pointed out. “Not only an eight-hour job, but multi-shifts because those checkouts aren’t staffed for just eight hours. They’re staffed for a number of different shifts.”

The Grocery Store Service and Community Protection Act would need a little more than 112,000 signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. The process of collecting signatures will begin once approval is received.

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