Shaping the Workforce of Tomorrow: The Synergy of Unions and Technology in Empowering Employees

by | Jan 7, 2024

In today’s rapidly changing technology landscape, the role of workers and their unions in shaping the future of work is increasingly important. With the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and other new technologies on industries, it is crucial to prioritize worker involvement from the beginning. This article explores the ongoing efforts by unions, companies, and governments to protect workers’ interests and build trust in light of technological advancements.

Germany is leading the way in ensuring worker involvement in technology decisions. Laws require companies to inform their works councils about the implementation of AI and other new technologies. This ensures that workers receive timely information and actively participate in decision-making, allowing them to voice concerns and share expertise. Deutsche Telekom, a telecommunications company, sets an example by committing to collect performance data only for groups of at least five employees and refraining from using AI to gather certain personal information about employees.

Involving workers in technology decisions leads to better outcomes and adoption rates for employers. When workers have a say in implementing new technologies, it reduces resistance and increases acceptance within the workforce. The Writers Guild successfully advocated for protections that require studios to disclose if material provided to writers was developed with AI assistance. This transparency ensures a fair working environment and fosters trust between employers and employees.

Recognizing the need for inclusive dialogue on the use of new technologies, the AFL-CIO has established a technology institute dedicated to developing expertise and policies on AI and related technologies. This initiative aims to empower workers and unions by providing them with the knowledge and tools to navigate the complexities of the digital age.

Despite the potential benefits of AI, concerns remain. Open discussions about both the advantages and potential downsides of AI and analytics are crucial for building trust between employers and employees. Michael Richards, policy director of the US Chamber of Commerce’s technology engagement center, acknowledges these concerns and emphasizes the importance of inclusive dialogue.

AI surveillance can enhance workplace safety by monitoring abnormal behavior and addressing potential threats. This contributes to creating safer work environments. The chamber suggests that “smart sensors and wearable devices” can further protect workers by detecting potential accidents, ergonomic risks, exposure to toxic chemicals, and heat stress.

Unions in Europe have long advocated for protections against intrusive AI tools that track and manage workers. They argue that strong labor standards are necessary to ensure responsible and ethical use of these technologies. While Germany leads with laws requiring informed works councils, workplace experts believe more needs to be done in the United States to protect workers from the negative consequences of technology.

In sectors where performance monitoring and algorithmic management are common, there can be harmful impacts on workers. Unfair pay cuts and wrongful terminations can occur due to errors made by AI-based monitoring tools. Establishing strong labor standards and regulations is essential to protect workers’ rights and prevent the misuse of these technologies.

The communications workers union, hotel workers union, Sag-Aftra, and the Writers Guild are pioneers in addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by new technologies. Through their bargaining efforts and advocacy for worker protections, they are paving the way for a more inclusive and fair future of work.

In conclusion, as AI and other new technologies continue to reshape industries, worker involvement and union participation are crucial. Through laws, dialogues, and collective bargaining, workers can shape the future of work. It is essential for employers, unions, and governments to collaborate in ensuring that technology benefits workers while safeguarding their rights and fostering trust in the workplace. By embracing inclusivity, we can maximize the potential of technology while safeguarding worker well-being.