Automating Teamster Jobs?

November 14, 2008: Ralphs has announced plans to build the first-ever automated facility in the U.S. to handle perishable grocery items.

California Teamster jobs are on the line.

Until now, grocery warehouses were only automating non-perishable items that could be easily handled by the new machinery.

Ralphs plans to open the new facility at its Compton warehouse in 2011.

The automated facility will partially replace the existing Perishable Service Center at Compton, where approximately 900 Local 572 Teamsters work. The company admits that the automation “could result in a reduction of jobs at our Compton Distribution Center.”

This will be Ralphs’ second automated facility. The company, owned by Kroger, will open its first automated warehouse in Paramount, Calif. in 2010.

The automation at both facilities is being designed by Witron, a German firm that is already launching other automated facilities in the U.S. and Europe.

A Slow Change

Many of the largest warehousers are considering new automated facilities.

Most Teamster warehouse jobs aren’t in danger yet. The switch to automated warehousing will be slow, because the new technology is still very expensive.

But there’s one thing we can be sure of: employers will keep trying to use new technology to reduce the number of Teamsters on the payroll.

What Our Union Can Do

The new machinery will eliminate some jobs but create others. There will be new maintenance jobs, jobs fixing problems with cases, and handling some items the machine can’t handle.

Workers in Compton have been told they will be retrained on the new machinery. It’s our job to make sure that work stays union, and that we can set reasonable limits to the pace of the work.

There’s also more organizing our union can do. The new facilities still require people to unload the trailers. Nonunion lumpers have taken over many jobs that used to be Teamster. Our union should require that Teamster members unload trailers where we can.

This new technology is already widespread in Europe, especially in Spain. The International Union should reach out to European unions and find out how they are dealing with these new challenges.

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