Artificial intelligence has largely celebrated across industries. Businesses recognize the benefits of AI in all kinds of automation and performance-boosting processes. However, the impact of AI on workers and their rights is less discussed.
As much as AI stands to benefit businesses, the trade-offs can mean lost work and working hours for millions of workers. Facing displacement, we explore how AI is really affecting workers as well as the rights that workers have when AI comes for them.
How AI is Affecting Workers
Right now, tech is driving business in all kinds of industries. Manufacturing, education, health care, and even government have had their processes revolutionized by the implementation of smart systems and automated functions. In fact, revenues accrued from AI software are expected to reach $118.6 billion by 2025.
But the implications of AI in business bring with them some human concerns.
Chief among these concerns is that of worker displacement. Right now, sectors of the economy like manufacturing face the biggest risk from automated processes. Already, every robot added in manufacturing replaces 3.3 human workers and decreases average wages.
At the same time, however, AI implementation has changed the nature of work and created additional jobs. AI is expected to create more jobs than it displaces. The problem is the nature of these roles and their corresponding qualifications can be much different than the positions they replace.
For example, right now the trucking industry faces a labor shortage amidst poor conditions and fears of the industry going automated. However, even if the trucks themselves become self-driving, operators will still be needed to ensure that the machines run as needed. Not even machines are perfect. Breakdowns and maintenance still occur. The shift to automation means that many jobs are moving to accommodate the needs of these useful machines.
Artificial intelligence, then, can bring worker benefits, too. In trucking, this means safer conditions and even reduced environmental impact through more efficient vehicles. However, it would be naive to suggest that all displaced workers will be able to conveniently transfer their skill-set over to changing roles. Because of the threat of displacement, workers need to understand their rights when it comes to imminent AI implementation.
Your Rights When it Comes to AI Adoption
As we have seen in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more businesses appear to be replacing people with technology. This threatens the economic rebound and has the potential to lock certain demographics out of the job marketplace. For workers afraid that such a circumstance will come for you, we’ve laid out two essential rights that you have and how AI can impact those rights.
- Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining
Workers have the right to assemble and collectively bargain for better wages and conditions. This is the freedom that has allowed the creation of labor unions. The continuation of this freedom will depend on what happens with workers in organizations with the widespread adoption of AI tools.
Amazon is one such organization. Right now, Amazon workers at the Bessemer, Alabama, facility are engaged in a campaign to unionize. If successful, they will be the first unionized Amazon workforce, giving them greater power in how the ecommerce giant manages its workforce and automation practices.
Unionization and collective bargaining are some of the best and most powerful tools you can employ in the fight against job displacement. However, using this freedom will be more difficult in states with right-to-work laws that diminish the power of unions.
- Freedom from forced or compulsory labor
Automation definitely won’t mean workers will now be forced into any kind of compulsory labor, but it can mean positions with fewer benefits and protections. For example, the gig economy has experienced a significant boost, especially in the wake of COVID-19. However, gig workers as independent contractors aren’t guaranteed minimum wage, unemployment insurance premiums, or even healthcare.
Uber has spent millions lobbying the federal government to keep its drivers classified as independent contractors rather than employees. Uber is also at the forefront of autonomous vehicle innovation. With more work becoming automated, gig workers are on the rise — but even these gigs are under threat of automation.
In short, workers’ rights are put at great risk from the impact of AI. The rise of autonomous systems and vehicles means the nature of work is changing without a safety net of workers’ rights protecting against displacement and loss of job-associated benefits like health insurance.
Workers and displaced workers, then, must come together to advocate for federal protections and solutions for a redefined economy. Your right to bargaining remains. With a representative government, we can demand better protections with a strong enough grassroots movement.
This blog is printed with permission.
About the Author: Luke Smith is a writer and researcher turned blogger. Since finishing college he is trying his hand at being a freelance writer. He enjoys writing on a variety of topics but business and technology topics are his favorite. When he isn’t writing you can find him traveling, hiking, or gaming.