In the bustling world of hospitality, the integration of artificial intelligence and robotics is posing a potential threat to the job security of thousands of workers. The annual CES technology trade show in Las Vegas recently showcased a myriad of AI-powered innovations, raising concerns among industry professionals and sparking discussions on the future of human jobs in the age of automation.
AI in hospitality: A double-edged sword
The artistry of a barista pouring a latte has long been a symbol of human skill and creativity, but recent developments in AI-driven robots challenge this traditional narrative. At CES, a barista powered by artificial intelligence demonstrated the ability to create intricate latte art, raising questions about the future of jobs in the hospitality sector. The fear of technology replacing human roles looms large for workers like Roman Alejo, a 34-year-old barista at the Sahara hotel-casino on the Las Vegas Strip, who contemplates the potential erosion of job opportunities in the face of advancing AI.
Tech threats: A recent union victory and ongoing concerns
Just over a month ago, the casino workers union in Las Vegas, representing 40,000 members, finalized new contracts after a protracted and high-profile battle. The negotiations brought attention to the imminent threat AI poses to union jobs, with technology emerging as a crucial sticking point in the talks. Ted Pappageorge, the Culinary Workers Union’s secretary-treasurer, acknowledged that technology was a significant issue during the negotiations and emphasized the changing landscape brought about by the combination of artificial intelligence and robotics.
Union strategies evolve in the face of AI dominance
Experts suggest that the evolution of AI technology has forced labor unions to rethink their negotiation strategies. Bill Werner, an associate professor in the hospitality department at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, underscores the need for unions to be more deliberate in securing job security for their members. The advent of AI and robotics demands a proactive approach to negotiations, ensuring that workers are protected not just from current technology but also from future advancements that may be unforeseen.
Safeguards against Job displacement
The recent contract negotiated by the Culinary Workers Union reflects an effort to establish a safety net for workers in the face of technological displacement. The agreement includes a provision for $2,000 in severance pay for each year worked if a job is eliminated by technology or AI. Additionally, workers have the option to explore opportunities in different departments within the company. Pappageorge emphasizes the importance of developing new language in contracts that addresses not only existing technology but also the potential technological developments on the horizon.
A glimpse into the future and union preparedness
Over 100 union members attended CES to explore emerging technologies that could impact their jobs in the hospitality industry. The trade show featured an array of AI-powered innovations, from delivery robots and robotic masseuses to autonomous barista bots and AI-powered smart grills. The Culinary Workers Union aims to stay ahead of the curve by actively participating in events like CES, ensuring they are informed about the latest technologies that could affect their members.
Industry voices: Balancing labor shortages and innovation
Meng Wang, co-founder of food tech startup Artly Coffee, defends AI integration by stating that autonomous barista bots are not intended to replace jobs but to address labor shortages in the service industry. Wang argues that the demanding nature of a barista’s job, coupled with long hours and modest pay, makes AI-powered solutions a practical response to filling market needs and bringing specialty coffee to more locations.