Short-staffed American hotels are hiring robots

Faced with severe understaffing issues, some hotels around America are relying on robots to provide certain room-service tasks like delivering towels, personal care items, or takeout food.

Labor unions, however, don’t find the trend of replacing humans with rolling bots particularly appetizing.

“Organizers fear the budding army of automatons, which currently numbers at least 200 nationwide, is threatening to grow and replace dues-paying members. The issue is bubbling up in the hospitality industry even as it has lately sparked division in other sectors amid a nationwide labor shortage,” the New York Post reported.

“We are not going to stop new technology,” D. Taylor, the president of a U.S./Canada hospitality union, observed. “But the question is, are you going to be part of the process or run over by it?”

Guests typically get a ping on the phone when the robot arrives outside their door, and they don’t have to tip, either.

The hospitality industry alone reportedly lost more than one million jobs since the COVID-19 pandemic according to industry estimates, leaving may hotels still without adequate personnel.

Los Angeles hotel executive Vaughn Davis, who has two robots on-site at his venue that has struggled with staffing shortfalls, told the Post that “There are people who simply don’t want to work in hotels anymore.

This scenario may be another indicator of the so-called Great Resignation, a phenomenon that resulted in people permanently changing their career path for various reasons, which may include government-implemented non-work incentives.

Michael O’Donnell, CEO of Bear Robots, one of the firms that manufactures primarily for restaurants, explained to the news outlet that “We have been more successful in non-union hotels. We have to figure out how to engage the unions.” In addition to sharing lease fees, he floated the futuristic idea of making robots pay union dues.

Units made by Relay Robotics, another vendor, “are about the size of R2-D2 from ‘Star Wars,'” and come equipped with sensors to prevent bumping into guests as they navigate through the corridors as well as locked storage bins.

Last month, Forbes similarly claimed that “Hotels like Hilton and Marriott are using AI and robots to deliver meals, wine bottles and dry cleaning, among other goods, to guests…Companies in the hotel and restaurant sectors operate on thin profit margins….robots are faster, affordable, safer and trackable…”

For better or worse, the functionality of these devices at hotels and in other sectors that might be strapped for human labor will expand as the technology is further refined. How automation generally affects the broader society in the years ahead is another matter entirely.

With persistent activist demands for minimum wage increases, some economists and business leaders previously predicted that automation would first take hold in the fast-food industry.

Watch a report aired by ABC7 News Bay Area:

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