Eating Disorder Hotline Fires Entire Staff and Replaces Them with a Chatbot

Workers taking crisis hotline calls at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) unionized — and just four days later, according to an NPR report, NEDA told its hotline staff that they would be fired and replaced by a chatbot. Per NPR, the hotline is hugely active. NEDA is the largest eating disorder-focused nonprofit in the US, and its helpline fielded nearly 70,000 calls last year alone. But for all of that volume, staffing was astonishingly slim, with only six paid staffers and a few supervisors, who “train and oversee up to 200 volunteers at any given time,” according to the report. Unsurprisingly, NEDA experienced high volunteer turnover and burnout — after all, on top of the staffing disparity, answering helpline calls is difficult emotional labor — and as a result, workers opted to organize. “We asked for adequate staffing and ongoing training… we didn’t even ask for more money,” Abbie Harper, a former helpline associate and unionizer, wrote in a May 4 blog post. “When NEDA refused [to recognize our union], we filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board and won on March 17.” But the company’s leadership apparently didn’t take well to the union push, announcing in a call just a few days thereafter that the nonprofit would wind down the crisis hotline entirely. Instead, they would introduce a “wellness chatbot” named Tessa — and fire the nonprofit’s human call-takers in the process. “We will, subject to the terms of our legal responsibilities, begin to wind…Eating Disorder Hotline Fires Entire Staff and Replaces Them with a Chatbot

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