Were you like me? Did you used to watch Star Trek, Star Wars or the Jetsons and imagine or dream about what the future would be like? How cool would it be to have flying or self-driving cars? How about robots helping us to do the tasks we hate doing around the house? While change is necessary and it’s nice to imagine how far new technology will take us, as a labor leader however, I’ve learned that in some instances, technology may not be our friend.
Over the past decade we have seen technology displace humans in almost every industry. Millions of American jobs that were once done by people, especially Union members, for years have been replaced by new technology. Think about it, subway token clerks are a thing of the past. I’m sure some of you reading this have never even seen a subway token, moreover remember the vast number of Union MTA workers that used to sell them to us. The same goes for the all the Union workers who had bridge and toll taker jobs. Now drivers can just happily speed on by, never giving thought to the thousands of hard-working people that once earned a good living there. However, it’s almost impossible to have this conversation with anyone that travels every day using the toll roads and bridges and convince them that this change wasn’t for the better.
The advent of email may have made communication faster and easier, but it also cost literally tens of thousands of Union, United States Postal workers jobs. Fast food cooks are starting to be replaced by robots that prepare and plate your food, and the new customer ordering process, like your supermarket’s self-scanners, have eliminated more jobs while forcing the customer to do more work. Driverless car and truck technology companies are developing better, faster versions and are currently running prototypes on the west coast. What does that mean for all the Union over the road truck drivers in the future? How many of you have a vacuum that cleans your home by itself? That type of technology will continue to expand and eventually have a negative impact the number of Union housekeepers and janitors in the hotel and hospitality industry. And let’s not forget all the effort being put into perfecting delivery drones. Once that is figured out you can probably kiss your Union UPS driver’s goodbye too.
Now think about what this type of automation means to your job. In the last issue of The Register, Jay Scorzelli wrote about specific types of technology already in your store that is already threatening your jobs today. Your companies are pioneering ways to reduce and eventually eliminate Union supermarket employees. If Amazon gets its way, it will open hundreds of employee-less stores across this country. They are already operating a couple on the west coast and plan to open one right here in NYC soon. Many of your stores will soon have a robot (an actual robot) roaming up and down the aisles, communicating deficiencies to management, such as breakages, stock levels, customer shopping patterns, missing sale items, or incorrect prices. How long do you think it will be before many of your positions are eliminated or deemed no longer needed?
I don’t hate new technology, but I don’t want to see the day when, just like the toll booth attendants that used to be there, people can speed on through a supermarket, doing their weekly or holiday shopping, without interacting with a single human being. Obviously, we cannot stop technology moving forward, but what can we do as employees and customers to keep our jobs alive? I surely do not have all the answers, but we need to work closely with each other to identify practices that are eliminating your jobs. Whether its refusing to use a smartphone app, that speeds up your shopping experience or refusing to go to a self-checkout register when you’re a customer, or even trying to offer better customer service as an employee, we need to show your company that they are better served by keeping you in your jobs. I know wherever I am shopping and have pleasant and helpful interactions with employees, it makes me go back there in the future. I’ve heard many times that Millennials usually prefer not to interact with people when they are shopping, however, what happens when something goes wrong, or there is some sort of glitch? Don’t we all look for someone to communicate with or help us out then? As I said, I don’t have all the answers, but we as a group need to have much more conversation about what we can do collectively to slow down or preferably stop the elimination of your jobs.
It amazes me that our members have given their all, helped build your respective companies to their current levels, and that company execs would in turn make decisions to eliminate your jobs after all you’ve done. And for what…just to make more profits? It’s not right and we need you, your families, your coworkers, and your neighbors to understand the severity of where the supermarket industry is heading. I know I will never choose to use a self-scan register because all I see when I walk by them are what used to be, OUR MEMBERS! It’s a pretty sad sight, just like seeing the ghosts from the jobs I mentioned earlier.
Maybe it’s time for all of us to do the same thing. You must try to avoid using the technology that is stripping you of your future. Let’s work together to prove to your company that there is so much value in having you, a person, work there. This holiday season when you get together with your families, have this conversation and ask them for their support. Maybe we can all make an impact on your company to move away from certain forms of automation, and finally value your employment with them. We will never know until we all try.
Happy Holidays from your Union family