Despite fully automated luxury communism sounding pretty sweet, Western workers have mostly felt haunted the specter of our jobs being taken by robots. Take RC Coffee, Canada’s first “robotic cafe,” aka an “unattended espresso machine,” which is basically a glorified version of whatever spat sludge and foam into a cup for five quarters in your college dorm’s lounge. But it is probably aware of that association, and the fear that kiosks like it could actually replace a barista, so it’s trying a new tactic; robots as pro-worker.
Writer Anna Fitzpatrick posted a photo on Twitter of the Robo Cafe’s street sign, saying “No Karen, you can’t talk to the manager, talk to our robot.” But you can’t talk to a robot! Karen defeated!
This comes at a time when restaurant workers are quitting en masse over low pay and paltry benefits, and those that remain report an uptick in customer entitlement. In a report from One Fair Wage published last December, 65 percent of tipped workers reported getting their tips docked if they asked a customer to abide by COVID safety protocols like wearing a mask. A recent survey from Lightspeed said 62 percent of hospitality professionals in the U.S. said customers have become more demanding in the past year.
Lightspeed is a hospitality commerce platform, and its report says that the labor shortage these conditions have caused means, lucky for them, “automation technology is now necessary to fill the gaps and support a smaller staff.” Like the Robo Cafe, it argues the real pro-worker solution is not to pay workers more and enact protections against abusive customers, but to have technology replace the workers who left because customers wouldn’t stop asking them to pull down their masks so they could see if they were pretty. Can’t have workplace abuse if there’s no one to yell at!
It would be one thing if we had UBI and universal health care so workers could be a little freer to leave an abusive work environment, and employers would be pressured to provide more to workers than just “more than $0.” But until that happens, no, getting your coffee from an automated kiosk does not make you a champion of fair treatment in the workplace.