Barcode scanner labor battles
Computerized Check BY HARRY BERNSTEIN Times Labor Writer Those mysterious, slightly irregular lines you see printed on nearly half the items in neighborhood supermarkets supermarkets are the only widely visible signs of a revolution in the nation's food industry. The marks, known as Universal Product Code symbols, have stirred a furore even though only 12 of the nearly 50,000 markets in the United States make use of them now to ring up your purchases by computer They could cause a wave of strikes starting this summer by 600,-000 600,-000 600,-000 retail clerks who expect to lose at least 100,000 jobs to automation when the system becomes universal. They have already sparked picketing picketing by consumer groups which call them part of a "new supermarket rip-off," rip-off," rip-off," and more protests are planned. Legislation is being debated in Sacramento to regulate their use even though only two stores in California California use them. Other state legislatures legislatures are considering similar laws. Despite the furore, the code symbols symbols could well turn out to be the biggest bonanza to hit the food industry industry in decades. Nobody knows the long-range long-range long-range impact, impact, but even the most conservative say the computerized system used to check your purchases out of the mar kets without the old-fashioned old-fashioned old-fashioned cash registers could reduce costs by 5. And others talk of cutting the cost of food distribution by between 20. and 50. There seems to be little question that the supermarket revolution is under way and will not culminate until most markets are equipped with the system, which costs now between $100,000 and $150,000 per store. But there are many concerns about two aspects of the revolution: How to divide up the anticipated savings between workers, owners and consumers. Whether stores should keep putting putting price tags on each individual item on their shelves. The key to the revolution will be at the check-out check-out check-out counter, where computers computers will replace cash registers. Built in to each counter will be a laser-beam laser-beam laser-beam scanner covered with clear plastic. The scanner will "read" the Univer-val Univer-val Univer-val Product Code printed on each item. The code consists of a series of vertical bars which are symbols for numbers that identify manufacturers, products and size or quantity. Clerks will simply slide each of your purchases over the scanner as fast as their skill and mood move them. No human can move items faster than the scanner can read. wmmmmmmmmst - out Counters: Who'll The scanner will instantly look up the price of the coded item and print it on the customer's receipt, along with the description of the item. This will also show on a small window on the computer so the customer can see the item and price as it is recorded. Produce will be put on a computerized computerized scale, a code number pushed by the clerk, and the produce weighed far more accurately than can be done with the human eye. The weight will be translated into price, and then weight, price and name of the produce produce will be printed on the customer's customer's sales slip. The machine will then add the bill, figure the taxes and such matters as coupon rebates or the value of food stamps and print the whole transaction transaction along with the date and hour of the purchase. Other machines will simultaneously record purchases so the store's warehouse warehouse people or machines can keep track of the diminished number of items on the shelves and reorder as needed. Thus, the process of checking out a customer will be far faster than with the prevalent practice of ringing up items on a cash register. And the result result will be that fewer clerks will be needed to operate the check-out check-out check-out counters. In years to come, some experts predict, predict, stores will hje only dummy.. displays of most items. Instead of taking items from shelves, you will just insert your special special coded card into the front of the display and when the shopping tour is done, the bill, along with the purchased purchased items, will be waiting at the front counter for you to pay your bill. While you go through the store, computers would call the stock room with your card-punched card-punched card-punched order. That plan is not ready for use in' this country, although some versions are being tried in Japan. In the meantime, meantime, though, this country is expected to be generally computerized within five years with the Universal Products Products Code. The problem of dividing up the huge anticipated economic gains from the UPC "will almost certainly lead to a strike of the clerks in Southern California, and probably in other parts of the country, too," predicts predicts Robert K. Fox, president of the Food Employers Council. But Ken Edwards, head of the AFL-CIO AFL-CIO AFL-CIO Retail Clerks Local 770, believes believes strikes can be avoided "if management management will recognize that the time to plan for the future is now, and that we want the consumer and our members to share in the gains which management knows are coming as a result of the computers." Please Turn lo Page I I, Col. I Be Saving COMPUTERIZED SYSTEM Clerk Money? moves groceries over laser scanner.