Strik­ing ho­tel work­ers worry about be­ing re­placed by ro­bots

The Daily Courier - - BUSINESS -

BOS­TON — Ro­bots de­liv­er­ing room ser­vice, check-in kiosks with fa­cial recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy and “smart” speak­ers that serve as an in-room concierge.

The ho­tel of the not-so-dis­tant fu­ture sounds like some­thing out of a sci-fi novel, but it’s draw­ing real world anx­i­ety for some of the thou­sands of Mar­riott work­ers on strike across the U.S. this month.

“I’m not against tech­nol­ogy,” said Juan Eu­se­bio, a 32-year-old door­man at the W Ho­tel in Bos­ton and a mem­ber of the lo­cal union’s ne­go­ti­at­ing team. “I just want any tech­nol­ogy that comes in to help us do a bet­ter job, not take our jobs away.”

How much in­put work­ers have as these and other tech­nolo­gies are in­tro­duced is among the core is­sues for the nearly 8,000 work­ers who have walked off their jobs at Mar­riott ho­tels from Bos­ton to Honolulu since last week, union of­fi­cials say.

Work­ers are also seek­ing changes to house­keeper work­loads, par­tic­u­larly as “green” pro­grams al­low­ing guests to opt out of clean­ing ser­vices be­come more pop­u­lar. They’re also push­ing for job pro­tec­tions for restau­rant and bar staff as more ho­tels shut­ter those fa­cil­i­ties.

Mar­riott, the world’s largest ho­tel op­er­a­tor, de­clined to com­ment for this story, but has said it’s “dis­ap­pointed” work­ers have de­cided to strike.

Mar­riott work­ers walked out of ho­tels across Bos­ton last week, fol­lowed by work­ers in other U.S. cities. Some 6,000 work­ers at 26 ho­tels in Chicago also went on strike last month, though most have re­turned to work af­ter reach­ing new con­tracts with Mar­riott and other op­er­a­tors.

The union’s pro­pos­als vary be­tween cities, but gen­er­ally work­ers are seek­ing bet­ter com­pen­sa­tion to keep up with soar­ing hous­ing and liv­ing costs, said D. Tay­lor, pres­i­dent of Unite Here.

Unions agreed to forgo pay raises dur­ing the lean re­ces­sion years to pre­serve jobs, but now that the in­dus­try is reap­ing record prof­its in some cities, they want to share in the wind­fall, he said.

In Au­gust, Mar­riott re­ported sec­ond quar­ter prof­its in­creased 25 per cent from the pre­vi­ous year to $610 mil­lion.

“We think the largest, most prof­itable ho­tel com­pany in the world can af­ford it,” Tay­lor said. “Our mem­bers are work­ing two or three jobs just to make ends meet.”

Mar­riott’s “Make a Green Choice” pro­gram, which is sim­i­lar to those of­fered by other ho­tel com­pa­nies, al­lows guests to de­cline house­keep­ing ser­vices. The union, in a re­port last month, said the pro­gram re­duces house­keeper hours and leads to more in­juries be­cause rooms take more ef­fort to clean once guests de­part.

Mar­riott said in a 2017 re­port its en­vi­ron­men­tal and sus­tain­abil­ity ef­forts have, over­all, low­ered en­ergy use by 13 per cent and wa­ter use by nearly eight per cent from 2007 lev­els.

“This is a labour re­duc­tion pro­gram mas­querad­ing as an en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­gram,” said Brian Lang, head of the union’s chap­ter in Bos­ton, where he says union house­keep­ers have seen their hours re­duced 15-20 per cent.

On the in­tro­duc­tion of new tech­nol­ogy, work­ers want at least 180 days no­tice be­fore any new tech­nol­ogy is rolled out. They want mem­bers have a chance to be trained on the tech­nol­ogy and “fair sev­er­ance” if they’re ul­ti­mately laid off, said Tay­lor, the na­tional union pres­i­dent.

Casino gi­ants MGM and Cae­sars in Las Ve­gas agreed to sim­i­lar con­ces­sions on tech­nol­ogy with their unions this year.

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