Tech Unions On The Rise: How AI Is Influencing Labor Dynamics

by | Jun 21, 2023 | Artificial Intelligence, Labor Relations Ink, Tech - Media, Union Organizing

As we venture deeper into the era of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, fascinating and significant trends are emerging in the tech industry. The potential consequences of advanced AI technologies and the rising wave of unionization are becoming increasingly intertwined, reshaping the landscape of tech companies and their workforces.

AI has been a driving force behind technological innovation for several years, and there’s no sign of this slowing down. But what does this mean for employment in the tech industry and beyond? The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is carefully watching the potential impact of AI on jobs. Despite the pervasive fear that AI could decimate many industries, the experts at BLS approach this potential threat with cautious optimism. They point out that previous predictions about technology wiping out industries have often failed. New technologies take longer than anticipated to impact job markets if they do at all significantly.

Simultaneously, we’re witnessing a rise in unionization across tech companies. Traditionally, the tech industry has resisted unions, seen as relics of a bygone era. Yet, the wave of organizing overcame this resistance, breaking decades-old barriers.

2022 saw an unprecedented rise in labor organizing in U.S. tech firms, with Amazon warehouse workers, Apple Store employees, and video game QA testers leading the charge. While traditionally union-resistant roles like engineers and product teams have stayed mainly on the sidelines, the ground is shifting. Microsoft, in particular, has taken a notable stance on this issue. It recognized its first labor union in the U.S. at its ZeniMax Studios, and the company’s approach of supporting workers’ rights to make decisions on their own has been praised as a model for the industry.

A group of Google contractors is organizing with the Alphabet Workers Union after being reassigned from other projects to work on AI-related projects. CNET journalists also are organizing over concerns about using artificial intelligence at the technology-news company. 

Unsurprisingly, managers are more excited than workers about the potential effects of AI on the workplace. A report from McKinsey Global Institute projects that AI technology and machine learning is set to add up to $4.4 trillion of value to the global economy annually, which will undoubtedly be disruptive to the workplace. 

The intersection of AI and unionization in the tech industry is a critical area to watch. The White House has taken note, announcing plans to hold a listening session with workers to understand their experience with employers’ use of automated technologies for surveillance, monitoring, and evaluation.

 As AI continues to evolve and the move towards unionization gains momentum, the landscape of the tech industry is bound to undergo significant changes. Employers would be well served to begin developing plans to assist their workers who could be impacted by AI in the future and start communicating those plans now.

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