How automation has changed work for casino employees in Detroit

How automation has changed work for casino employees in Detroit

On a cool Wednesday evening in October, the sounds echoing in Ambre Romero’s home were familiar: her grandchildren unloading the dishwasher, her husband, off work, watching television. Ms. Romero was getting ready for her shift serving cocktails at the MGM Grand Detroit, the casino where she has worked since 1999. She wore her blue bustier top, said goodbye to her family and drove to a nearby gas station to pick up Red Bull and Lucky 13 scratch-off tickets.

Ms. Romero, who has long reddish-brown hair and a wry smile, enjoys the predictability of her nights. Her shifts revolve around regular people, whose families, health problems and pet names she knows well. The work is constantly social, Ms. Romero loves that; She’s a former dancer who started serving cocktails because she felt like performing.

But like millions of Americans, Ms. Romero has seen her job reinvented in recent years due to the advent of new technologies that automate parts of her job.

When ChatGPT was released about a year ago, attention turned to knowledge economy jobs that artificial intelligence could replace, from law to copywriting. Goldman Sachs predicted that some amount 300 million Full-time jobs can be automated with generative AI, technology that can create text, images and sounds in response to prompts.

But long before generic AI products reached the market, thousands of jobs in hospitality – a sector not known for being the face of automation – were already shifting under the pressure of robotic technologies: robots that provide room service. do, prepare salad And check in on hotel guests. In the accommodation and food services industry, 70 percent of employees could see more than half of their work activities automated, including This year, according to McKinsey estimates, by artificial intelligence.

“What’s new is the risk for white-collar workers, but blue-collar workers have faced this problem for a long time,” said Darrell West, senior fellow at the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution.

The change in the intuitively predictable rhythm of Ms. Romero’s job began with the arrival of smart bar system, or automated cocktail dispensers, in 2019, which he described as a quick, surface-level training. She found herself dealing with machines that had broken down due to liquids being sprayed on servers and were often lacking items ordered by customers. Ms. Romero spent more time tending the machines and less time interacting with customers, a change she found reduced her tips by about 30 percent.

“I don’t know anyone who cares about a smart bar,” said Ms. Romero, who makes a little more than $13 an hour. “This increases all our responsibilities. “We went from just being a server to being bartenders and bar servers.”

Upstairs, along the hallways of the MGM Grand where housekeepers wheel their carts filled with cleaning supplies, new technologies have also come into play. Starting this year, more housekeeping tasks have been facilitated through an app called HotSOS, which assigns cleaning staff to rooms and instructs them on the cleaning sequence. But the app sometimes glitches, assigning a staff member to a room that still has a guest in it, or service crashes altogether and staff become confused.

For domestic maids, this has been a disturbing factor in their carefully planned daily routine.

“You start to go crazy — especially when you know you have a certain number of rooms you have to go to,” said Alicia Weaver, 60, a housekeeper who has worked at the MGM Grand since 1999 and makes $17.76 an hour. Earns dollars. “It gets frustrating when you have to stand in the hallway and figure out how to get to a room.”

When new technologies arrived, Ms. Weaver was told they would make her job easier. Instead there are moments when HotSOS freezes, requires a reboot, and then erases records of the rooms it has cleaned.

MGM Grand officials declined to comment about the use of robotic technologies. Some casino employees said they welcomed new forms of automation in their work because it reduces their workload. They do not oppose technology; They just want to be aware of its arrival, and pay attention to their criticisms.

“I was actually a little excited about it,” Danita Anderson, a housekeeper at the MGM Grand since last year, said of HotSOS. “I thought it was convenient.”

A co-owner of a manufacturer of smart bars argued that the technology helped workers prepare drinks faster, meaning they could serve more customers and receive more tips. “Bartenders make more money by serving more drinks,” said Barry Fieldman, managing member of Smart Bar USA. “Guess who wins when that happens? The bartender makes more money and so does the house.

“You’re not going to negotiate technology,” Mr. Fieldman said. “You have to find a way to train employees, show them how the technology will help them make more money so they’re less afraid of it.”

And Amadeus, the company that makes HotSOS, said its technology has helped workers move away from disorganized systems in which room assignments were done on paper, and allowed housekeepers to do their jobs more quickly and safely. Was.

“This work flow reduces the need to unnecessarily move housekeeping carts around the property, ensuring scheduled breaks and the most efficient way to complete their daily tasks,” said Alberto Santana, the company’s senior vice president of sales. Provides.” The customer service team responds to all feedback and complaints received.

On October 17, Ms. Romero, Ms. Weaver and about 3,700 of their coworkers went on strike after their contract expired and the unions representing them – including Unite Here Local 24, United Automobile Workers Local 7777, Teamsters Local 1038, Operating Engineers Local 324 and the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters – continue to negotiate a new contract. Many of the issues at the center of the negotiations remain standard, including higher wages that keep pace with the rising cost of living, more stable schedules and more funding for health care.

But the technologies used by hotels and casinos are also part of the conversation. Activists want to be part of the conversation about their implementation and use.

Unions must provide at least six months’ notice when planning new workplace technologies, an opportunity to negotiate how the technologies will be used, training on how to use them, and an opportunity for unionized workers to be fired because of the new technologies. Is demanding severance package. (About half of UNITE HERE members nationwide have already secured similar provisions.)

These provisions would apply to smart bars and HotSOS, but would also apply to many other tech products, including those that workers say pose a safety risk. Ordering technology, such as tablets, for example, sometimes allows minors to order drinks and leaves the decision about handing out cocktails to the server, which can irritate customers.

“You’re used to doing your job a certain way for many years, and then one day they come and say, ‘Okay, we’re going to change it,’” Ms. Weaver said. “If you’re going to start something, everyone should have a good understanding of how it works.”

Detroit has long been a union town. Ms. Romero’s father was a foreman at Chrysler and a shop steward for the union. Ms. Weaver’s parents were also involved in their factory unions; Her most vivid childhood memories are of carnivals hosted by the UAW, where she would ride roller coasters and enjoy cotton candy and buttermilk potato chips.

In their book “Detroit: I Do Mind Dying”, historians Marvin Surkin and Dan Georgakas describe the advent of new forms of automation in Detroit’s car factories in the 1970s – which made work faster, but working conditions worse. It also got worse.

“With fewer workers and shorter working hours, they were trying to get more production out of the assembly line,” Mr. Surkin said. “It has an impact on morale, work-life balance.”

And as far as casino workers today go, “It’s the same old story,” Mr. Surkin said, adding that he’s not surprised that the city’s hospitality union workers are fighting the negative effects of automation: “Detroit In, they have generational memory.”

In hospitality, the impact of new technologies has been more subtle. Often they are being used for partial automation, meaning that jobs are changed but not eliminated.

In early October, Ms. Romero stopped by Teamsters Hall, just off the MGM Grand, to greet union staff members and volunteers who had gathered to prepare for a possible strike. She walked down the hall with her grandson, who was kicking a ball.

“Are you all coming to collect your strike money?” a union staff member asked. Another pointed to Ms. Romero’s grandson and asked, “So this is the boss?”

Inside the fluorescent-lit space, volunteers stuck cardboard sticks to posters with large images of dice that read, “Don’t gamble with our future.”

Employees love to remind their employers and each other of all they have invested in their jobs. Ms. Weaver developed carpal tunnel syndrome from bedsheets being pressed under her beds, back pain from lifting mattresses, and swollen feet from being on her feet all day.

Meanwhile, Ms. Romero is irritated when she orders a drink that is not in the Smart Bar, and then she runs into the casino to find the bartender who will serve her. By the time she gets back to the customers, they are gone, which means her time has been wasted.

“I am constantly on the run because of the difficulties we face with Smart Bars,” she said. “I still enjoy my work – it’s just a lot harder now.”

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