At a June event in Chicago, stakeholders of various backgrounds met to discuss the future of labor in the hospitality industry. Their conversations focused on the effects of new technologies, the importance of building alliances, and workers’ role in shaping the future of work. The International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) and the ICMC-hosted “The Future of Work – Labour after Laudato si’” Project were among the event’s co-organizers.
On 13 June 2023, the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls of Chicago hosted “The Future of Work in Chicago’s Hospitality Industry” event, where local and international leaders from the faith community, labor, the hospitality and tourism industry, community-based organizations, academia, the hospitality workforce, and government gathered to discuss the challenges facing Chicago’s hospitality industry and develop a shared vision for the future.
The event comes at a crucial time for the hospitality industry: during the COVID pandemic, nearly 90% of hospitality workers found themselves out of a job. It is estimated that, since then, only 70% of them have returned to work. Furthermore, the industry, and workers in general, could face new challenges with the latest development in artificial intelligence (A.I.) technology.
“It’s important not to scare people. Prior to the COVID pandemic, everyone was going “nuts” about artificial intelligence and robotics, saying it will eliminate 70% of jobs in 15 years, or that we will be surrounded by machines that are smarter than us. Neither of those two things are true. There will be job gains, jobs losses,” said Dr. Peter Warrian, co-chair of the event and Senior Research Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy of the University of Toronto. “What will happen, though, is the content of jobs will change, and that requires people, labor and management to cooperate to manage those outcomes.”
Bringing Unlikely Allies Together
The conference was moderated by Father Clete Kiley, Chaplain of the Chicago Federation of Labor and Special Advisor to Cardinal Cupich (Archbishop of Chicago), as well as Senior Advisor for Immigration Policy for UNITE HERE International Union, and Sister Mary Priniski, Chapter Prioress for the Catherine of Siena Chapter, Adrian Dominicans. Their experience with labor issues was essential to engage in dialogue through plenary sessions and table discussions between a wide range of actors.
In his opening remarks, Father Kiley explained the specific focus on hospitality in Chicago within the broader topic of the future of work, tying one of the city’s leading industries to a set of important values expressed in Christian tradition and in every faith, which also lie at the heart of hospitality.
Indeed, the event brought together representatives of the various stakeholders of the hospitality and tourism industry in Chicago to discuss, during roundtables, the challenges faced at present and those that could be projected for the future, and to offer a concerted and comprehensive response. “Such participation will provide dynamic potential for deep reflection and strategic planning and aim toward effective action to promote and maintain just and fair policies and treatment, as well as decent working conditions and just pay,” explained Ambassador Anne Leahy, who travelled from Quebec to represent Cardinal Michael Czerny, Prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, during the event. “They have to be persuaded that everyone will be better off if they work together rather than each for their own immediate gain.” said Ms Anne Leahy, member of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development and former ambassador of Canada to the Holy See.
Giving Workers a Platform
The participation of workers from the industry, including Roushanda Williams, bartender at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, was vital to gather first-hand testimonies of the issues that need to be addressed. As ICMC’s Ignacio Alonso Alasino, Project Manager of “The Future of Work – Labour after Laudato si’” Project, hosted by ICMC, pointed out: “Workers are the protagonists, that is the voice that you always need at the table. […] Having the workers brings you the [day-to-day] perspective of what is going on, and [the chance] to listen to what the challenges are, [so that we have] some kind of diagnosis that will lead us to think of solutions and of common actions.”
The event was sponsored by the Chicago Federation of Labor and co-sponsored by Mercy Home for Boys and Girls, ARISE Chicago, the Center for Social Concerns at the University of Notre Dame, the International Catholic Migration Commission, and “The Future of Work – Labour after Laudato si’” initiative.
The debates and exchanges from this event will result in the formulation of a statement of values for the hospitality industry to help stakeholders navigate the challenges facing Chicago and to how to build a culture of hospitality in this industry.
“The Future of Work – Labour after Laudato si’” is a global project supported by ICMC. It aims to provide Catholic and other faith-based organizations with the capacity to contribute jointly to the promotion and implementation of Laudato si’, Pope Francis’ second encyclical calling on all people to take rapid and unified action to preserve our “common home,” in areas related to work.