Editorial: Don’t limit self-check options at grocery stores


Published Mar 19, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

What may be good for grocery store clerks in Oregon may well be bad for grocery store patrons. The Legislature’s House Bill 2398 could make buying groceries a bit more difficult for some shoppers.

The bill, backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, would make it illegal to sell beer, wine, tobacco products and over-the-counter or prescription drugs through self-serve checkout lines. Grocers, not surprisingly, oppose the measure.

The union argues that it’s too easy for minors to purchase the illegal items in self-serve lines.

Jeff Anderson, secretary-treasurer of UFCW local 555, told The Oregonian, “You should see some of these college kids. They’re having a field day running through these U-scans. They’ll scan a six-pack of pop and then bag a six-pack of beer.”

Sounds pretty serious. Unfortunately, it’s a tale that is difficult to confirm. Store clerks in Bend say it doesn’t happen here. And an official at the Corvallis office of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission says it isn’t a problem in his college community. In fact, he said, he and others in his office are very aware of the potential for kids to sneak beer through U-scans, and they pay close attention to the machines as a result.

From the union’s standpoint, there is a problem, however.

When clerks must keep track of more than one checkout line, as they do with self-serve scanners, the chance for error goes up, and with it the pressure on the clerk. That’s exacerbated by many grocers’ no-tolerance policy when such errors do occur.

Grocers oppose HB 2398 for obvious reasons. While not all consumers like U-scans, those who do like them very much. They help shoppers get in and out of the market more quickly, and that keeps shoppers happy and coming back for more.

That’s important. No doubt many of us have dashed into a store to buy a single item — a bottle of wine, perhaps — only to be held up in line to pay. Self-serve stations cut wait time.

Perhaps selfishly, we don’t want that to change. Given the lack of hard evidence that a problem with illegal sales actually exists, lawmakers should bag HB 2398.