More than 50,000 union workers in Las Vegas are set to go on strike if new contracts are not settled by June 1, and at the top of the list of concerns for the Culinary and Bartenders Unions is protection against robot replacements.
The hospitality employees—who work at 34 casinos throughout Las Vegas, including properties operated by MGM Resorts International and Caesars Entertainment Corporation—have voted to partake in a citywide strike starting Friday in order to secure their jobs and prevent automation from creeping into the workforce and stealing work.
Per the Culinary Workers Union, the strike—which is the first since 1984—will include bartenders, guest room attendants, cocktail servers, food servers, porters, bellman, cooks, and kitchen workers. The organization projects that two aforementioned resort operators could lose more than $10 million per day combined if they don’t come to the table and meet the demands of workers. A month-long strike could cost an upwards of $315 million, NBC reported.
The two unions are seeking a new five-year contract, which they have been negotiating over for months but have yet to come to an agreement with the casino operators. One of the main hang-ups in the process appears to be the increased concern about automation and what it may mean for workers going forward.
“We support innovations that improve jobs, but we oppose automation when it only destroys jobs,” Geoconda Argüello-Kline, secretary-treasurer for the Culinary Union said in a statement. “Our industry must innovate without losing the human touch. That’s why employers should work with us to stay strong, fair, and competitive.”
“I voted yes to go on strike to ensure my job isn’t outsourced to a robot,” said Chad Neanover, a prep cook at the Margaritaville, said. “We know technology is coming, but workers shouldn’t be pushed out or left behind. Casino companies should ensure that technology is harnessed to improve the quality and safety in the workplace, not as a way to completely eliminate our jobs.”
The culinary and hospitality industries are primary targets for automation in coming years. According to a Cognizant survey, most US travelers want to see more automation in hotels, which could spell trouble for front desk workers and receptionists. Nearly three-fourths of hotel operators said AI-based systems would become mainstream by 2025 and 58 percent said they would embrace the use of robots for cleaning per a survey from Oracle.
Las Vegas, as a city that relies heavily on the business of travelers and tourists, is at particular risk to be hit by automation. A study from the University of Redlands published earlier this year predicted that as much as 65 percent of the city’s jobs could be automated within the next 20 years—especially those working lower-wage gigs that require performing repetitive tasks. Some of that may be inevitable, but the unions will seek to protect as many jobs for their members as they can.