After years of prototyping, and more years still experimenting with surveillance-based convenience stores, Amazon has officially opened its first cashierless grocery location in its home city of Seattle. One of America’s largest food worker unions is already pissed about it.
“Amazon represents a clear and present danger to millions of good jobs,” United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) President Marc Perrone wrote in a statement Tuesday. “The brutal truth is that Amazon is focused on one thing—eliminating as many jobs as possible to enrich one multi-billionaire, Jeff Bezos.”
The 10,400 square-foot Amazon Go Grocery location at 610 East Pike Street replaces cashiers with a network of cameras that track what customers grab, charging them via smartphone when they exit the store. Go Grocery will, of course, still need employees—to stock shelves, answer customer questions, and scan IDs for shoppers trying to purchase alcohol—“a couple dozen people,” according to an estimate reported by CNBC. In all likeliness, this is a significant reduction from the number of staff a similarly-sized Whole Foods (the grocery chain Amazon purchased in 2017) employs, though the company declined to provide numbers or more general comment when Gizmodo reached out on Tuesday.
According to Perrone, Amazon’s pivot away from human labour “is designed to destroy millions of grocery worker jobs.” Walmart, 7-11, and others are pursuing similar strategies that could drastically reduce the workforces of this sector.
To those sceptical that Amazon Go represents little more than a high-tech self-checkout aisle, well, UFCW has been critical of those developments too. Those, at least, do not implicitly discriminate against customers without bank accounts—something lawmakers have blasted Amazon Go for. (The company has since rolled out a less-than-elegant solution where legally applicable.)
Is a massive network of surveillance cameras, plus years of research and development, less expensive than a human being who rings up and bags your groceries? If so, that extra money isn’t making those groceries cheaper—it’s going into Jeff Bezos’s pocket, and growing Amazon’s monopoly power in yet another industry.