Human’s changing role


In the decade sicne he began working as a warehouseman in Tolleson, Ariz, a suburb of Phoenix, Josh Graves has seen how automation systems can make work easier but also create new stress and insecurity. The giant facility where he works distributes dry goods for Kroger supermarkets. Mr Grave, 29, went to work in the warehouse, where his father worked of three decades, right out of high school. The demanding job required lifting heavy boxes and the hours were long. “They would bring in 15 guys, and only one would last,” he said. Today Mr Grave drives a small fork-lift-like machin that stores and retrieves cases of all size. Becasue such wokers are doing less physcial labor, there are fewer injures, said Rome Aloise, a Teamsters vice president. In Northern California. Because a computer sets the pace, the stress is now more psychological. Mr Gravers weres headsets and is instructed by a computerized voice on where to go in the warehouse t ogather or store products. A centralized computer the workers call the brain dictates their speed. Managers know exactly what the workers do, to the precise minute. Several years ago, Mr Graver’s warehouse installed a German system that automatically stores and retrieves case of food. That led to the elimination of 106 jobs, roughly 20 percent of th work force. The new system was initially maintained by union workers with high seniority. Then that jobwent to the German company, which hired non-union workers. Now Kroger plans to build a highly automated warehouse in Tolleson. Sixty union workers went before the city council last year to oppose the plan, on which the city has not yet ruled. “We don’t have a problem with the machines coming,” Mr Gravers told city officals. But tell Kroger we don’t want to lose these jobs in our city. Some jobs are still beyond the reach of automation: construction jobs that require workers to move in unpredicatable settings and perform different tasks that are not receptive; assembly work that requires tactile feedback like placing fiberglass panels inside airplanes, boats or cars; and assembly jobs where only a limited quantity of products are made or where there aremany versions of each product, requiring expensive reprogramming of robots. But that listt is growing shorter.


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