“If you are having an increase in sales and in productivity, the workers should share in that benefit,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers union, representing tens of thousands of grocery store workers. “Right now, the owners of these companies are the only ones benefiting.”
Labor experts and Wall Street analysts also predict that the job of picking items off the shelf and taking them to a customers’ cars can easily be done by machines, which means that the boom in jobs may be fleeting.
Even now, that work is highly automated. Workers fulfilling curbside orders at Walmart use a hand-held device that indicates the order in which they should pick each item, for maximum efficiency.
“They can sometime feel like robots,” Mr. Perrone said.
A recent report by the Labor Center at the University of California, Berkeley, and the nonprofit Working Partnerships USA predicted that workers would come under new pressure as stores began to resemble Amazon warehouses, and noted that “stock clerks’ jobs seem destined for more radical change than any of the other major retail job categories.”
“On the store floor, they also will be more frequently prompted by ‘alerts’ to replenish stock,” the report said. “As with cashiers, this could make stocker jobs more varied and interesting, but in combination with new ways of tracking work, it also could result in jobs that are surveilled, closely watched, sped up and stressed.”
Jean-André Rougeot, chief executive of Sephora Americas, said that on a recent visit to Walmart, he saw more employees pushing carts for pickup orders than he did shoppers. He anticipates that people will return to Sephora’s stores to touch and try its beauty products, but acknowledged that the pandemic would transform how people shopped and received goods.