Mass. lawmakers approve price sticker bill

WESTFIELD – Beginning in January, consumers may have to pay a little more attention at the grocery store.
Last week, a law was passed allowing large grocery stores the option of not pricing individual items. Instead, shelves will be priced and scanners in aisles will allow shoppers to check the price of items.
“This has been filed year after year,” said state Rep. Donald Humason (R-Westfield), who supported the measure. “I don’t really know why it never passed before.”
Humason and state Sen. Michael R. Knapik (R-Westfield) both said there was “big concern” from food worker unions.
“The food unions have generally opposed this,” said Knapik. “They thought the first thing that would happen if this passed is lay-offs.”
Knapik said the language of the law prevents this.
“We put safeguards in place,” Knapik said, adding that stores would sign affidavits that they would not lay-off those workers who price items.
“Stores support this,” said Humason. “Big Y said they would rather have employees helping customers than pricing items.”
Knapik said he and other legislators met with Big Y staff in Chicopee to discuss why the locally owned store chain executives supported the legislation.
“Massachusetts is the last state in the nation that required individual pricing,” Knapik said. “When this bill was first brought forward, we didn’t have the technology we have today. It makes sense.”
Humason said the law pertains to large supermarkets. If stores opt to eliminate the pricing of individual items, price scanners must be placed in aisles and shelves have to be priced.
“I think people should give it some time to make it work,” Humason said. “I like the idea that I can grab something off a shelf and just go.”
Some consumer groups oppose price sticker elimination<
“This represents a terrible loss of consumer rights for shoppers,” commented Edgar Dworsky, founder of and author of the now 25-year old law requiring grocery items to be price marked.  “Consumers are going to have to play ‘guess the price’ because aisle scanners have proven so unreliable in the other stores where they have been allowed.”
Tests of nearly 150 similar aisle scanners in stores like Target, Walmart, Home Depot, and CVS a few years ago revealed that 70-percent of them failed to operate properly or comply with the law, according to Deirdre Cummings, MASSPIRG’s Legislative Director.
“It is not a fair trade for shoppers to give up price stickers if the industry’s proposed substitution for item pricing does not work in reality,” said Cummings.
Consumer groups have long supported item pricing as an important tool for shoppers.
“Although the price sticker is old fashioned, no technology has yet been developed that provides the same benefits of helping shoppers find prices easily, compare prices in the store, tally one’s shopping cart while shopping, catch overcharges at the checkout or at home, and check the last price paid for items in one’s cupboard,” said Corey Pilz, vice chair of the Massachusetts Consumers’ Coalition.

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