An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: Executives at the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) decided to replace hotline workers with a chatbot named Tessa four days after the workers unionized. NEDA, the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to eating disorders, has had a helpline for the last twenty years that provided support to hundreds of thousands of people via chat, phone call, and text. "NEDA claims this was a long-anticipated change and that AI can better serve those with eating disorders. But do not be fooled -- this isn't really about a chatbot. This is about union busting, plain and simple," helpline associate and union member Abbie Harper wrote in a blog post. According to Harper, the helpline is composed of six paid staffers, a couple of supervisors, and up to 200 volunteers at any given time. A group of four full-time workers at NEDA, including Harper, decided to unionize because they felt overwhelmed and understaffed. "We asked for adequate staffing and ongoing training to keep up with our changing and growing Helpline, and opportunities for promotion to grow within NEDA. We didn't even ask for more money," Harper wrote. "When NEDA refused [to recognize our union], we filed for an election with the National Labor Relations Board and won on March 17. Then, four days after our election results were certified, all four of us were told we were being let go and replaced by a chatbot." The chatbot, named Tessa, is described as a "wellness chatbot" and has been in operation since February 2022. The Helpline program will end starting June 1, and Tessa will become the main support system available through NEDA. Helpline volunteers were also asked to step down from their one-on-one support roles and serve as "testers" for the chatbot. According to NPR, which obtained a recording of the call where NEDA fired helpline staff and announced a transition to the chatbot, Tessa was created by a team at Washington University's medical school and spearheaded by Dr. Ellen Fitzsimmons-Craft. The chatbot was trained to specifically address body image issues using therapeutic methods and only has a limited number of responses. "Please note that Tessa, the chatbot program, is NOT a replacement for the Helpline; it is a completely different program offering and was borne out of the need to adapt to the changing needs and expectations of our community," a NEDA spokesperson told Motherboard. "Also, Tessa is NOT ChatGBT [sic], this is a rule-based, guided conversation. Tessa does not make decisions or 'grow' with the chatter; the program follows predetermined pathways based upon the researcher's knowledge of individuals and their needs." The NEDA spokesperson also told Motherboard that Tessa was tested on 700 women between November 2021 through 2023 and 375 of them gave Tessa a 100% helpful rating. "As the researchers concluded their evaluation of the study, they found the success of Tessa demonstrates the potential advantages of chatbots as a cost-effective, easily accessible, and non-stigmatizing option for prevention and intervention in eating disorders," they wrote.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.