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Grass isn’t any greener on this side of the hill

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POSTED June 23, 2014 6:11 p.m.

Editor’s note: Dennis Wyatt is on vacation. This column first ran in July of 2010.

 

Using self-serve check-outs is like walking into quick sand.

It looks OK but it isn’t.

Self-serve is there for your convenience, right? Wrong.

Remember the days of 45-cent gallon gasoline?

It’s back when teens got their first real hourly jobs as baggers and gas jockeys.

They learned work ethic and customer service.

And customers got service.

They greeted you with a smile as you pulled up. They asked you what you wanted. They pumped the gas. They checked air pressure. They looked at your oil. They cleaned not just the windshield but all of the windows. They even would give you directions and advice - if you asked for it - about the best place to eat if you were passing through. The idea was to provide you the best service in town so you’d come back.

Now you’re lucky if there is clean water — if any at all —  in the bucket and if the squeegee has been replaced in the last decade.

We were told it was all dropped to save us money. Right. We bought that one hook, line and sinker. Standard dealers — and mom and pop independents with franchises complete with service bays — were squeezed out. The reason? The official line was to reduce the price of gas. In reality it was to reduce service and increase profits. And it was done while eliminating hundreds of thousands of jobs.

We are told this is progress but it’s progress for whom?

Not for teens trying to find jobs nor is it for customers trying to save money.

Back in the days of 45-cent gas, oil companies competed for your business. They bragged about their service. Remember the Gulf commercials where the gas attendant washed all the windows, checked all the tires, checked the oil, and pumped the gas when the teen driver on a date just asked for 75 cents worth of premium? They serenaded customers with free glasses and Blue Chip stamps. And the funny thing was the oil companies where all making money within margins that were the top in corporate America.

Today they’re making more money in a minute than the gross national product of many Third World countries. What do we have to show for it? Not much unless you count high unemployment and the customer-be-darned attitude that now rules the gas business. What do the oil companies have to show for it? Even bigger profit margins and quarter after quarter of record profits.

The self-serve movement has reduced jobs and increased profits. But has it really has done much for the people paying the bill, the customers?

Nothing against machines. But as a United Auto Worker boss once told a Ford Motor executive who bragged that line workers couldn’t put together cars as efficiently as robots, I’d like to see a machine buy a car, buy gas, or buy food.

Unemployment today in Manteca for all practical purposes is 6.4 percent. That’s because we have never dropped below 7 percent since the 1970s when the self-serve movement started to take hold. The same is true elsewhere.

We’re told eliminating basic no-thrill jobs always lead to better paying jobs. Really. It seems all that has happened is there are less and less jobs and the people who run companies based on the mantra of merging, slashing, and automating are the ones improving their bottom lines and not the ones who were cut loose in acquisitions, eliminated in job slashing, or made dispensable with automation.

What was wrong with the good old days when banks, oil companies, and corporations were all happy to increase revenues and profits steadily each year instead of looking for short cuts? The economy was growing steadily. It wasn’t overheated and it wasn’t lethargic.

The grass was pretty green back then. More of us had decent housing although it was a lot smaller. Most of us had cars although they were more basic. We spent more money on food and we didn’t owe our soul to MasterCard.

Now that we’re on the over side of the hill the grass isn’t looking any greener. If anything, there are a heck of a lot more brown spots.

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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