Grocery stores criticize RI bill limiting self-check out registers – The Providence Journal

PROVIDENCE – An army of lobbyists for Rhode Island’s grocery stores, supermarkets – and unrelated retail businesses fearful they will be the next target – have a message for lawmakers:
Leave us alone!
Their angst – and anger – was directed at freshman Rep. Megan Cotter‘s bill to limit the number of self-checkout lanes at any grocery store in Rhode Island to eight and mandate that grocers provide a 10% discount to customers who use self-checkout for 10 or more items.
Her argument: “Self-checkout is a way grocery stores are avoiding paying employees by getting customers to do cashiers’ jobs for free. It seems only fair that if they are going to take on cashiers’ work, the customer should get something in return,” said Cotter when her legislation was introduced.
“This bill confronts a fundamental question for the state — to what length can government dictate the operations of a business?” Scott Bromberg, the president & CEO of the Rhode Island Food Dealers Association, wrote members of the House Corporations Committee ahead of its Thursday night hearing on Cotter’s bill: H5161.
More on self-checkout:Hate self-checkout at the grocery store? RI bill would limit how many can be open at a time
“Like many industries, since COVID, grocery stores are facing a difficult time finding employees,” Bromberg said in his written testimony.
“Couple the low unemployment rate” – of 3.5% in January – “with the high cost of labor, and businesses will be required to develop alternative models for doing business or cease from operating.”
While Bromberg spelled out the industry dilemma, the president of the family-run Clements Marketplace in Portsmouth talked from personal experience.
“For years I said I would never buy Fast Lane Self-Scanners because they implied a lack of service. Large orders slow down the checkout process and inconvenience customers of all kinds from paying for their goods and getting back to work, home, family, etc.,” said Tracy Clements Anthony.
“For years I had the mindset that self-scanners were impersonal and lacked the service we wanted to provide, I could not have been more wrong.”
What changed her mind? “Customers were looking for them because they were frustrated waiting in lines at the registers and are accustomed to using these units at many retail store not just grocery stores.”
She said “these lanes always have a minimum of one to two people working at them…[to assist customers in] ringing and bagging their orders; however, there are some customers who, since COVID, do not wantanyone touching the products they are purchasing and this gives them an option for the contactlessservice they want. “
“Simply because a store offers an option for a customer to handle their own goods at the point of purchase should not give the state a right to regulate the number of machines, mandate a discount, etc.,” she argued.
Why single out grocery stores when “the state of Rhode Island, as well as municipalities, offer the convenience of online portals to pay bills,” asked Christopher Carlozzi. Rhode Island state director for the National Federation of Independent Business, citing the DMV’s automated license renewals through an online option, as an example.
Other groups registering their opposition included: the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce, the R.I. Food Dealers Association and the R.I. Business Coalition, an umbrella group that represents a wide array of industry groups from the Associated Builders and Contractors of Rhode Island to the R.I. Beverage Association.
As they read the bill, it “says to the business community, ‘the state is going to tell you how to run your business or leave’.”
But Teamsters Local 251 lobbyist Paul MacDonald told the lawmakers at Thursday night’s hearing: the Teamsters fully support the bill. It’s a jobs issue, he said.
Cotter’s co-sponsors on the bill include a number of progressive Democrats, including the House majority whip Katherine Kazarian; the chair of the Rhode Island Legislative Black and Latino Caucus, Karen Alzate; and Republican Reps. Barbara Ann Fenton-Fung and Michael Chippendale, the House minority leader..