The “Fight for $15” campaign may have had its share of victories in a handful of blue states like New York, but studies have shown that over time these “wins” are largely symbolic and ultimately end up hurting workers.
They hurt them in an number of ways, and one of them is in how companies – in response to these campaigns – start exploring different ways to save money to offset rising labor costs. Fast food chains and grocery stores have done this with self-serve kiosks and other self-checkout options.
One way Walmart is doing it by expanding their robot workforce:
The world’s largest retailer announced Tuesday that it is adding thousands of new robots to its stores. By next February, it expects to have autonomous floor scrubbers in 1,860 of its more than 4,700 US stores. Walmart will also have robots that scan shelf inventory at 350 stores. And there will be bots at 1,700 stores that automatically scan boxes as they come off delivery trucks and sort them by department onto conveyer belts.
Walmart says these “smart assistants” will reduce the amount of time workers spend on “repeatable, predictable and manual” tasks in stores and allow them to switch to selling merchandise to shoppers and other customer service roles.
Walmart has been testing out this technology in hundreds of stores over the past year.
Reducing the time their employees spend on “repeatable” tasks is not the only (and likely not the primary) reason they’re bringing on the bots:
Walmart is adding robots to help it manage rising costs, including for store labor. Unemployment is at its lowest level in decades, and Walmart and other retailers have increased wages and benefits to attract and keep workers.
Last year, the retailer raised its minimum wage to $11/hour in response to demands from the activist left to go higher, and they’ve been under increasing pressure from leftist groups like “Fight for $15” to raise it even more. 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has practically made forcing Walmart to raise their minimum wage to $15 his mission in life.
What will bringing in robotic labor mean for their human workers in the long run? If you guessed reduced hours and layoffs, you’d be right:
Walmart has said that it will reduce the hours it assigns workers to unloading boxes and mopping the floors. That will lead to some employee attrition over time, Walmart said.
“As we evolve, there are certain activities, certain jobs that’ll go away,” Walmart US CFO Michael Dastugue said at an analyst conference last month.
It’s almost as if this were predictable or something.
—Sister Toldjah is a former liberal and a 15+ year veteran of blogging with an emphasis on media bias, social issues, and the culture wars. Read her Red State archives here. Connect with her on Twitter.–