According to Gizmodo, 2018 was the year of the robot, especially when it came to automating jobs in the service industry.
For example, Amazon opened five stores sans cashiers; fast food chains incorporated more self-ordering kiosks for customers; and jobs with repetitive tasks – such as burger-flipping, dish washing, and oven cleaning – are being taken over by technology. Gizmodo says that McDonald’s has been integrating self-ordering kiosks since the summer, and will continue to do so until 2020. “Fast food employs around 3.7 million people, and 89 percent are ‘front-line’ workers like cashiers and cooks—the jobs that have already started to be replaced.”
Aside from giving “jobs that aren’t as preferable” to robots, another motivator behind implementing technology in the service industry was to cut back on labor costs. Gizmodo says this has especially become the case as minimum wage rose to $15 per hour; decision makers were able to cut costs by turning to automation. “For a long time we didn’t have automatic dishwashers,” Wendy’s CFO Gunther Plosch told Gizmodo. “Why not? At $7 an hour it wasn’t a big deal, but now at $15 it makes more sense.”
Plus, decision makers have said that bringing in the bots has made their jobs easier, including cutting out difficult personalities and minimizing the risk of employee turnover. “In this market, employees will leave if they have one bad day,” Patrick Sugrue, the CEO of Saladworks, told the Wall Street Journal. “If that happens, having this technology in place makes it easier to deal with.”
What decision makers need to know:
While there are many bonuses to automating certain parts of the service industry, not everyone is happy about it. Gizmodo says that in some cases, human workers are fighting back. For example, The Culinary Workers Union recently won a deal for service workers, “one that includes language that specifically insulates them from the impacts of automation.”
In November 2018, the union ratified a five-year contract for its 25,000 workers, Gizmodo says. Among the details benefitting workers, it stipulates that the union must be notified 180 days before a new technology is adopted, and who will be affected by that adoption. Plus, companies are required to train employees who are at risk of redundancy from that technology, and provide severance and six months pay for employees who choose to let a robot to take over their job.
“We know nobody’s going to stop automation,” Geoconda Arguello Kline, secretary-treasurer of Culinary Workers Union Local 226 told Gizmodo. “But how can this be an opportunity for the members, so they can make choices too—maybe I’m close to retiring, and I want severance and healthcare. And retraining part is so important—if you having a salad-making robot, someone has to prepare the salad, maintain the machine.”