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Self-scan more than 10 items & the Sacramento Surplus Busters are going to be coming for you
self checkout
Folks in Sacramento run California so well they now want to dictate how many items consumers can scan in grocery and drug stores.

Lola Smallwood-Cuevas doesn’t like the fact Food-4-Less allows you to use a self-checkout if you have more than 10 items.

Nor does she want to allow only one employee to monitor and assist those customers using the four self-checkout stations in the Manteca store.

So who does Smallwood-Cuevas think she is?

She’s a State Senator from Los Angeles.

And she’s pushing for a new California law that would require grocery and drug stores that are still standing that haven’t been forced out of business from rising theft and labor costs or suffocated by ever expanding regulatory restrictions to:

have at least one cashier-run checkout.

have one employee devoted 100 percent to monitoring two self-checkout stations at a time which means the Manteca Food-4-Less would need to double its self-checkout staff.

restrict those using self-checkout to 10 items or less.

require stores looking to implement new technology that would significantly reduce or affect employee duties to study it before implementing it.

notify, meet, and solicit input from employees or collective bargaining units at least 60 days before even drafting the study.

This is all being done in the name of reducing retail theft, keeping workers safer and protecting jobs.

Welcome to California where 120 men and women who can convert a $98 billion budget surplus in the span of less than two years — June 2022 to today — into a $68 billion deficit are dictating micro-rules for how to run a sustainable and profitable business.

Let’s look at the reality.

Food-4-Less is the type of company that one would think Smallwood-Cuevas would like. It’s not owned by a corporation controlled by hedge funds. It’s employee owned.

It may also surprise the State Senator and her colleges that can shred a budget and run a state of nearly 40 million people into the ground financially by their brilliant insight that the proposed law will not make employees safer at all.

When asked last year about a man who brazenly walked into the Manteca Food-4-Less store, grabbed perhaps $50 or so in prepackaged meat, and walked out the door without stopping to pay at a checkout — there were no self-checkouts at the time — store staff explained they had been instructed by management not to intercede.

Remember, as invested owners in the store after a set period of time, the man was stealing from them and not some nondescript Wall Street corporation.

The reason for the directive was simple.

Previous efforts to stop theft resulted in employees being physically threatened.

It may disturb the 120 merry lawmakers to know, but many of those that commit or threaten violence in such situations — at least in Manteca, Tracy, and such — are from the ranks of homeless or organized theft crews.

Old-school shoplifting — however you want to define it — never had or has such a high prevalence of violence tied to it.

The change is how segments of Proposition 47 created the unintended consequence of creating a class of thieves that rarely face consequences.

Unless, of course, they get greedy and steal goods worth more than $950 at one time, flee law enforcement that orders them to stop, or commit battery or worse.

Food-4-Less is not alone in its stand down orders.

The most recent case was at the CVS store in Tracy where a cashier — after a customer she was ringing up pointed out that a man was dashing out the store with stolen goods — glanced up, acknowledged that she saw him, and added the store policy is to let them go.

That policy is rooted in the fact management doesn’t want to put employee safety in jeopardy, the police aren’t going to respond unless it was over $950, and if a confrontation takes place the store’s workmen’s compensation and insurance rates would go throw the roof if things went south in a bad way.

Bottom line, when it comes to keeping employees safe the proposed law won’t move the needle one iota.

As for protecting jobs, Amazon et al have discovered the cashier-less model is not good for the bottom line although Smallwood-Cuevas’ concern that someone will try to develop a Buck Rogers futuristic tech that works financially is legitimate.

By why just stop at self-checkout?

Customers self-bagging groceries, pushing carts to their vehicle, and then loading their own purchases into their vehicle kills jobs.

So do people pumping their own gas.

If killing jobs is a concern, then why doesn’t Smallwood-Cuevas mandate that all of the proverbial genies be put back into the bottle?

After all, there are still places that sell groceries that still have staff bag them.

It’s because they are not state-run operations — think the old Soviet central planning committees that dictated every detail of food production and distribution.

Raley’s has a different business model than Food-4-Less just like Trader Joe’s, Costco, and Save Mart has a different approach than WinCo.

Yet Raley’s, which clearly isn’t the proverbial low price leader, has self-checkouts.

It’s because Raley’s understands the nuances of their targeted customer base and runs their stores accordingly.

Besides, every concern from Target to Walmart are tweaking their self-checkout approach to address losses ranging from items not being scanned on purpose to deliberate acts not to scan them or scanning an item at a lower price point.

Walmart even has stores where one can access scan and go technology for $98 a year membership.

The real question is this: Who is best to determine how a store be staffed and whether you are allowed to self-scan more than 10 items?

Would the correct answer be frontline store management, who must deal daily with variables ranging from theft, spoilage/damage, economic flows and ebbs, and competition to be profitable to support jobs?

Or would it be legislators that turn massive surpluses into mega-deficits, have no competition, and can’t even protect consumers from the likes of PG&E?

I’d trust the folks running Food-4-Less to make decisions on how to run their store than the collective intelligence of the California Legislature.

This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at