Las Vegas Union Demands Protection Against Automation

Published July 11, 2018

New contracts between a labor union representing hospitality workers in Las Vegas, Nevada and some of the city’s largest casinos and hotels include new financial compensation and job placement plans for union members displaced by automation and other new technologies.

Currently, 21 out of 34 Las Vegas hotels and casinos employing about 57,000 workers represented by the Culinary Workers Union Local 226 ┬áhave agreed to the union’s demands.

The organization, representing about 57,000 Las Vega-area hotel workers, voted to authorize a strike in May in case contract negotiations between management and labor representatives broke down.

In a May 22 press release announcing the vote, the union cited hotel owners’ increasing use of automated technology as a reason for the strike.

“I voted ‘yes’ to go on strike to ensure my job isn’t outsourced to a robot,” prep cook Chad Neanover said in the press release.

According to a May 16 letter sent to local lawmakers by the union’s executive board, Culinary Workers Union Local 226 is asking hotel owners for higher wages and benefits packages, as well as “a voice in the introduction of new technology and financial compensation and job alternatives for employees displaced by technology.”

Unions vs. Customers

Michael Schaus, communications director at the Nevada Policy Research Institute, says labor unions are fighting technological advances despite the potential benefits to customers.

“If there were a union for buggy manufacturers, it would have vehemently opposed the creation of the automobile,” Schaus said. “At the end of the day, the Culinary Union is out to do one thing: protect the jobs of its workers. When customer-driven advancements threaten those jobs, it’s unsurprising that the union would react.

“The kind of automation and technological advances that have been discussed are aimed at improving the customer experience,” Schaus said. “Vegas will remain one of the best locations in the world for entertainment, but if we’re not careful and we refuse to adopt the trends that are disrupting almost every other industry, the rest of the world will slowly pass Vegas by.”

Progress and Disruption

Caleb Watney, a technology policy fellow at the R Street Institute, says automation and technology help everyone, including workers.

“The history of technological progress tells us that in the long run, innovation creates more productive workers, higher wages, and lower prices for consumers,” Watney said. “It can certainly lead to short-term unemployment for some workers who are displaced, but it should not be the responsibility of individual businesses to avoid innovations that will lead to cheaper prices and better experiences for consumers, for fear of automation hurting workers.”

Advises Preparing for Change

Schaus says labor unions’ resistance to innovation will ultimately hurt their members.

“If workers aren’t prepared for the change, many could see their established skills rendered obsolete,” Schaus said. “Therefore, they will have to adapt their skills and expectations if they wish to remain relevant and competitive in a quickly changing economy. It seems as if the union itself is actually failing its workers in the long run, despite having saved a few jobs from potential automation.

“Ultimately, the union needs to be focused on preparing its members for these inevitable changes toward technological advancement,” Schaus said. “What skills will be relevant in five to ten years? What new positions will be created to replace the lost positions in the future? More importantly, how can the union prepare workers for these changes?”

Schaus says unions should be helping their members adapt to the future of the hospitality industry, instead of vainly fighting to remain in the past.

“Rather than temporarily slowing the technological disruptions that are looming on the horizon, the union should be preparing their workforce to not only adapt but thrive in the hospitality industry of the future,” Schaus said.