50,000 Las Vegas workers set to strike, demand protection from robots

They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but a strike planned by hospitality workers across Sin City could plunge its bright lights and late nights into functional darkness, and inspire similar demonstrations across the nation.

Among the demands of the 50,000 members of the Culinary Workers Union are higher wages, better job security, and protections against automation. The workers, whose contracts are up on June 1, are employed by more than 30 of the city’s renowned resorts.

“We know that many hospitality jobs are slated to be automated in the next coming years, so we want to make sure that we’re innovative and thinking about how we can protect workers and their jobs,” Bethany Khan, director of communications at the Culinary Workers Union, told Digital Trends. “Our automation and technology proposals deal with protecting workers. We know technology is coming and we want to make sure that workers are protected and have a say in how technology is implemented in their workplace.”

The real-world impact of automation is tough to understate. In the decade after 2000, robots and A.I. were responsible for about 87 percent of jobs lost in the United States, according to one study. American jobs as a whole face cutbacks of 38 percent by 2030, according to another. The issue is significant enough for the Executive Office of the President put together a 55-page report outlining how technologies like A.I. And robotics could displace millions of workers.

Automation is also likely to affect workers across the board. Both blue-collar jobs, such as truckers and hospitality workers, and white-collar ones, such as attorneys and financial advisors, are at risk.

Workers in hospitality have already felt the impact of these changes, as fast food restaurants and hotels have increasingly implemented automated systems, from ordering screens to self-check-ins. There are also behind the scenes cases, the ones customers don’t directly interact with, that may increase efficiency but decrease employment opportunities.

“There’s all kinds of ways robots and automation are impacting the workplace,” Khan said. “It’s already doing that for prep-cooks, for example. They used to prepare the food to go into the main dish, but now much of that is prepared off sight in factories.”

For members of the Culinary Workers Union, this strike isn’t so much a show of outright opposition to technology as it is an effort to integrate disruptive tech into a compatible role with humans.

“We think technology can be supportive and we want to make sure that we can grow with technology,” Khan said. “Technology can enhance the customer and guest experience, and employers really face the dilemma — they can either have technology be supportive in the workplace or be responsible for mass layoffs that can impact the entire hospitality economy.”

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