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California lawmakers seek to limit self-checkout to reduce theft, combat racism

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(The Center Square) – California lawmakers who say self-checkout, not thieves, are responsible for theft now want to limit the use of self-checkout machines. The union sponsoring the bill says there should be one employee for every two self-checkout stands, which would only be available for those purchasing 10 items or less, and that the use of anti-theft devices is a product of “racial bias.”

Opponents say theft is caused by thieves, not self-checkout machines, and that a new requirement for “worker and consumer impact assessment” for every new technology used would harm the state’s economy.

With a de facto $20 per hour minimum wage and the highest unemployment rate in the nation, requiring more workers for retail stores could drive more closures, reducing state revenues further as the state faces an up to $80 billion budget deficit for the 2024-2025 fiscal year.

United Food and Commercial Workers, the union that sponsored SB 1446 and would gain significant numbers of new members from the bill’s provisions, argues self-checkout, not thieves, are to blame for theft.

“Understaffed stores create the opportunity for theft, assault, and violent incidents,” said the union, in support of the bill.

The bill also bans items with theft-deterrence measures from being purchased at self-checkout, even with an employee deactivating such a device. The union, which seems to aim to reduce the number of locked up items through the bill by increasing labor costs for deactivating anti-theft devices, blames racism, not theft, for the use of anti-theft devices.

“The types of products that are locked up, and in which stores, also indicate racial bias, rightfully angering customers who see that stores are unfairly targeting them,” the union continued.

The California Chamber of Commerce and the California Retailers Association, which oppose the bill, say thieves are to blame for theft, and that the bill’s requirement for burdensome reports on the use of any new technology has a “significant” impact on job functions would stifle innovation and business growth.

“While it is important to consider the potential effects of new technologies on employees and consumers, overly burdensome regulations, such as those proposed in this bill, may stifle business growth, innovation, and competitiveness in an increasingly digital economy,” the coalition said. “Retail theft committed in stores has been brazenly committed regardless of whether there’s employees staffing checkout lanes or the presence of self-checkout lanes.”

The coalition also found the 10-item limit for self-checkout is unnecessary and harmful.

“To place this type of restriction in statute opens the door for meaningless litigation and forces retailers to police the number of items going through self-checkout lanes, which could create a point of friction between a customer and a retail employee,” they continued.

Having passed the Senate Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee, SB 1446 is now on the suspense file for the Senate Appropriations Committee, where the fiscal impact of bills will be considered as the state faces a major budget deficit.