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EDITORIAL: Oregon unions seek to limit self-service grocery checkout

As further proof that every government intervention requires additional interventions to address the problems created by the initial intervention, consider Oregon and its supermarket checkout controversy.

As The Wall Street Journal noted this week, Oregon in 2016 heeded calls from labor activists and imposed “one of the country’s most aggressive minimum wage laws.” Portland’s pay floor will hit $14.75 an hour in 2022, one of the highest in the country.

Naturally, this progressive push to outlaw more jobs will impose large financial obligations on many small businesses and make it more difficult for unskilled workers to find honest work. McDonald’s and other fast-food outlets, for instance, have accelerated the move toward automation in an effort to control costs amid escalating wage mandates.

In Oregon, many supermarkets took a similar approach: They cut down on cashiers in favor of adding self-service checkout lanes.

This has Beaver State union interests in a tizzy. Having long insisted that boosting the minimum wage will have no effect on employment, they now propose a follow-up economic intervention intended to limit the job losses associated with boosting the minimum wage.

Last week, the Oregon AFL-CIO submitted paperwork signaling its intention to qualify the Grocery Store Service and Community Protection Act for the 2020 ballot. If passed, it would prevent Oregon groceries from having more than two self-serve checkout stations.

The petition checks all the mandatory progressive boxes. According to the union, the proposal is all about social justice. Grocery checkout lanes, you see, promote community, and offering patrons the convenience of self-service checkout threatens to exacerbate “social isolation and related negative health consequences.” In addition, “Because people of color are overrepresented in cashier positions … the increasing use of self-service checkouts has a disproportionate negative impact on people of color.”

So running through the self-serve scanner is both racist and a health threat. Who knew?

The president of the NW Grocery Association told Portland’s Willamette Week that the proposed initiative is likely a bargaining chip in an ongoing dispute between the state’s large grocery chains and labor groups. But if it makes the ballot, he said, the grocers will mount a well-funded opposition campaign.

Set one thing in stone: If this silly, anti-consumer measure passes — and who knows in Oregon — grocers will find some other way to hold down costs that offends the leftist intelligentsia. And that will result in more progressive scheming about how to harness the power of the state to intervene in the market.

Regardless, the petition is an open admission by organized labor that large hikes in the minimum wage often hurt the very people they’re supposed to help.

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