The future of work and labor relations in an AI-driven world is a topic that demands attention. As technological advancements continue to shape the workplace, trade unions must adapt their approaches to effectively represent their members. However, certain unions appear to be stuck in the past, failing to address the challenges posed by AI and automation.
This short-sightedness is particularly worrisome for young workers who require adequate representation as the AI-driven workplace evolves. Furthermore, employers should also be concerned as a lack of worker engagement in the process of change can lead to future problems.
The recent strike involving Hollywood actors and writers sheds light on the importance of addressing these issues. The use of AI in the entertainment industry has become a contentious topic, with concerns about the potential replacement of actors by computerized simulations and the relegation of writers to refining AI-generated scripts. While resolving these concerns will take time, it is encouraging to see that the parties have started the negotiation process before AI becomes more prevalent in the industry.
Unfortunately, other unions are not adequately acknowledging the ways in which technological advances will impact jobs. A recent deal struck by UPS and the Teamsters, for example, focused on increasing pay but failed to address the preparation of employees for automation. As the future may involve fewer drivers operating behind the wheel and more behind a console managing autonomous vehicles, it is essential to address this issue proactively.
Similar lack of attention to tech-related challenges can be seen in the recent labor deal in the ports industry. While workers received significant pay raises, the automation gap between North American ports and facilities in Asia and Europe has widened. It is crucial to address this disparity and prepare workers for an automated future.
Auto workers also face transformative change as the industry shifts towards electric vehicles and self-driving technology. This change requires new manufacturing platforms and different skill sets. Amidst demands for increased pay and reduced working hours, unions must also prioritize preparing workers for the changing workplace.
One of the primary concerns across industries is the potential disappearance of many entry-level jobs as algorithms take over certain tasks. This poses a challenge for young recruits who rely on these jobs to gain on-the-job experience and climb the career ladder. Additionally, it is necessary to address how to train individuals to work alongside AI in the workplace.
There are various models for coworker relationships between humans and AI, such as passing AI-generated information to human managers for decision-making or involving humans when there are abnormal changes in the operating environment. It is crucial for worker representatives and employers to develop frameworks that allow workers to fulfill these roles and adapt as new ones emerge.
Preparing for the transition to an AI-driven workplace requires proactive thinking as the adoption of AI will not happen overnight. While employers and employees have time to prepare, it is important to acknowledge that even if workers stay in the same jobs, their roles will change. They will likely see more repetitive tasks delegated to automated systems while requiring new skills to monitor and spot aberrations in automated processes.
Ongoing re-skilling or upskilling is necessary to ensure a stable or improving career path for today’s workers. Displaced workers also require substantive retraining to secure their next job or career. As such, a range of educational programs will be needed to respond to these shifting demands, from bite-sized, on-demand learning to mid-length skill-certification programs.
Negotiating pay and benefits concessions will always be a priority for trade unions, especially in the current labor shortage. However, the accelerating pace of AI and automation means that labor and employer representatives must confront worker-related issues promptly. This is the time for labor unions to leverage their influence and ensure the future of their members.
In conclusion, it is crucial for trade unions and employers to address the challenges posed by AI and automation in the workplace. By adapting approaches to labor relations and prioritizing worker engagement in the change process, both sides can prepare for a future that is inevitably shaped by AI. Failure to do so risks leaving workers unprepared and creates problems that can be avoided with proactive action.