Giving Compass' Take:
- Valerie Wilson describes how Big Tech companies are using technological advancements, like AI, to justify inequitable labor conditions, and how unions can offer a powerful line of support to workers facing these challenges.
- How can you advocate for equitable working conditions alongside technological advancements?
- Learn more about who pays the price for the social consequences of AI in the workplace.
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As we settle uneasily into the age of platform gig work, algorithmic management, and artificial intelligence-driven automation, we tend to talk about technological innovation as though it’s a completely new challenge. It’s not. For centuries, the economy has gone through periods of rapid technological advancement that changes the nature of work—usually leading to increased productivity; sometimes displacing jobs, at least temporarily; but often ultimately replacing those lost jobs with something new. These changes tend not to happen all at once, but gradually over time.
That history demonstrates that today’s advances in automation and AI will not inevitably lead to mass unemployment, as some predict. But some industries, and some people, are always affected more than others. One thing that remains constant is the power dynamics involved in these transitions: Who is driving them? Who benefits? Who loses?
As we grapple with new technological developments that would have been unimaginable 100 years ago, the most immediate, large-scale challenge to ensuring the tech revolution benefits everyone, and is a net positive for the future of work, is determining how those changes are implemented. And a large part of the solution is right in front of us: strengthening labor standards and enabling workers to have a voice through organizing and collective bargaining.
This is where unions come in, not just as a force that gives workers a seat at the table, but as one that has historically helped level the playing field for historically marginalized workers.
Unions also have other, less tangible effects on equality, from unions’ historical support for Civil Rights and voting rights to the fact that today, as research by the Economic Policy Institute has found, states with higher union density are less likely to have voter suppression laws and more likely to have higher voter turnout.
Today, workers and unions face new threats from Big Tech companies, which are lobbying to enshrine new forms of inequality into law through aggressive anti-union campaigns. At state legislatures, in the courts and through ballot initiatives, platform companies have sought to weaken the legal tests used to determine whether workers must be classified as employees for the purpose of minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and labor and nondiscrimination protections; to pass preemptive state legislation that prevents local governments from setting their own, higher standards; and have disregarded labor laws under the assumption that they won’t be enforced or bring repercussions.
Read the full article about Artificial intelligence and labor by Valerie Wilson at Stanford Social Innovation Review.