Our readers have no doubt heard plenty over the past few years about the leftist-driven “Fight for $15” campaign to pressure federal, state and local governments to artificially increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
Doing so would disrupt our nation’s market economy and dramatically increase labor costs for businesses both small and large. In localities where the the pressure campaign has already achieved victories to start increasing the minimum wage in steps toward $15, we have already seen businesses respond by laying off or hiring fewer workers, cutting hours of retained employees or passing along the cost increase via higher prices for goods and services.
One other means to cope with the artificially increased labor costs is to eschew them altogether via automation — the use of computers or robots to do simple tasks previously relegated to entry-level, minimum wage-earning employees. It’s a development that had been steadily growing over decades but has been kicked into overdrive in recent years.
Bloomberg reported that the nation’s largest retail outlet, Walmart, just announced its latest move to reduce labor costs — though it likely won’t be billed that way — by virtue of a fleet of 360 new “custodial” robots that will autonomously clean the floors of their stores, even while customers continue to shop around them.
The robots, described as a cross between a motorized wheelchair and a miniature Zamboni ice-rink machine, were developed as part of a joint effort with a company known as Brain Corp. The machines will initially need to be operated by humans — in effect, the robots must be “taught” the layout of the stores — before they can begin to autonomously go about sweeping and scrubbing the floors.
The robots come equipped with sensors that can gather and interpret data, so as to avoid obstacles and people who may be in their way, while also even supplying data to the retailer about the shopping habits of customers.
In a joint statement from Brain Corp. and Walmart, John Crecelius, Walmart’s vice president of central operations, said, “We’re excited to work with Brain Corp in supporting our retail operations and providing our associates with a safe and reliable technology. BrainOS is a powerful tool in helping our associates complete repetitive tasks so they can focus on other tasks … and spend more time serving customers.”
Eugene Izhikevich, CEO of Brain Corp., said, “We are thrilled to partner with Walmart to enhance customer experience at its retail locations. BrainOS technology allows robots to effectively and safely function in complex, crowded environments, ensuring increased productivity and efficiency across applications. We look forward to continuing to work alongside Walmart to help build intelligent, connected stores.”
Brain Corp. has already deployed some of its robotic janitors to a handful of international airports in the U.S. — such as Boston, Miami, San Diego and Seattle — and has developed a smaller version of the robot to be marketed in Japan. The company plans to design other robots that can serve as security patrols and sentries, as well as machines that will handle product deliveries inside of big-box retail stores similar to Walmart.
As for Walmart itself, Bloomberg reported that this isn’t the retail giant’s first foray into automation, as Walmart has already begun to experiment with using automation to scan shelves for out-of-stock items and inventory tracking, as well as moving large products out of storage for online orders. That doesn’t even count the automated check-out kiosks that have reduced the need for human cashiers … who always seemed to be in short supply at Walmart stores, regardless.
Meanwhile, in news that only the economically illiterate could think was unrelated, a large group of Walmart employees continue to push the retail giant to voluntarily increase the starting wage for employees to $15 per hour.
MSNBC reported in late 2015 on that effort from Walmart employees as it grew ahead of that year’s “Black Friday” post-Thanksgiving shopping bonanza. At that time, Walmart had already raised its own minimum wage above the federal level to $9 per hour, with plans for an increase to $10 per hour in 2016 for regular employees, while managers had seen their pay raised to $13 per hour with plans to be increased to $15 per hour the following year.
Fast-forward to 2018, and Walmart announced yet another increase to its minimum wage, this time to $11 per hour. However, as Forbes reported, the increase had less to do with protesting leftists demanding an increase and much more to do with the tax reform passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump.
That tax cut from Trump and Republicans not only allowed Walmart to up its minimum wage by an additional dollar, it also allowed the company to expand certain benefits, such as maternity and parental leave, as well as adoption costs and even a one-time bonus of up to $1,000 for its thousands of employees.
Though it is unlikely that Walmart will ever come right out and admit it, there should be little doubt that increased labor costs brought about by the rising minimum wage is a significant factor in the decision to move toward further automation in its stores.
In the long run, a fleet of floor-cleaning robots is cheaper to operate and maintain than human employees, not to mention the fact that the robots will never call in sick, show up late, be drunk or hung over, steal items or money from the store, have a bad attitude toward management, get in fights with other employees, be disrespectful to customers or make major mistakes.
Now apply that same reasoning to other aspects of a repetitive, entry-level job at Walmart, and you can understand why there is a move away from human employees and toward automation.
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