A Wal-Mart spokesperson has announced that the chain will be doing away with the majority of their cashiers and front-end staff in an attempt to further automate the check-out process. Shoppers will still be able to use an employee-manned register, but will be charged a ten percent convenience fee for doing so.
“We have gotten a lot of bad press recently about the wages we pay our employees. In light of this, we have decided to automate more of the functions in our Supercenters, which will alleviate some of the positions that are receiving this ‘insufficient pay’ that you’ve been reading about,” said Bill Harley, a representative for Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.
In total, Wal-Mart plans to lay off ninety percent of their cashier workforce. Most Supercenters are already equipped with self-checkout technology, and the plan is to double the number of machines they already have and almost totally eliminate the human element from their stores.
While the company feels that the move is both inevitable and a great way to cut payroll and insurance expenses, employees see it differently. Mary Ann Waltrip, a Wal-Mart employee of five years, is very angry about the announcement.
“This company would be nothing without their employees. We built this thing. It was our labor, our dedication, that made it possible for a little chain from Arkansas to grow into this giant. This is how they repay us? They cut us off like a tumor at the first opportunity? They cannibalized us. They used us for our backs and our livelihood, and now they are casting us aside.”
Employees aren’t the only ones feeling alienated by the shift in policy. Customers are agitated by the prospect of choosing between a machine that doesn’t have the best record of user-friendliness, or paying a fee to use a service that used to be free. Jim Bob Devereaux, a longtime Wal-Mart shopper, says he is considering a switch.
“Hell, I figure we pay for the cashiers when we buy their products. I ain’t using no damn computer to buy my goods. Next thing you know, they’ll be tracking my purchases and telling the government about how many boxes of bullets I bought this month. That’s none of their damn business. If Wal-Mart wants to treat customers and employees like we aren’t important, I’ll buy my bullets somewhere else.”
Wal-Mart has fielded some of the criticism for the new direction they are heading.
“When we employed all these people, all they did was complain about their jobs. Now that they are out of work, they vilify us for letting them go. When you are as big as we are as a company, there will be criticism no matter which course you take; so in this case, we are taking the course that will save us millions of dollars. If our former employees had valued their jobs, they could have kept them by not exposing us to so much bad publicity. You can’t bite the hand that feeds and expect to keep eating.”