Microsoft sets precedent, partnering with union to develop AI policy

Microsoft has partnered with the AFL-CIO — the largest US union group, representing 60 unions and 12.5 million workers — to explore how AI will impact workers amid growing concerns about job losses with the rising adoption of the technology.

The collaboration was formed to share in-depth information on AI technology trends with labor leaders and workers and obtain their perspective on the development of AI to help shape public policy that supports the technology skills and needs of frontline workers.

“By working directly with labor leaders, we can help ensure that AI serves the country’s workers,” said Brad Smith, vice chair and president of Microsoft, in a press release. Microsoft has invested $13 billion in OpenAI, the creator ChatGPT.

As part of the partnership, a Microsoft AI expert will conduct learning sessions starting in early 2024. Microsoft will also work with the American Federation of Teachers to explore opportunities for career and technical education to prepare students for emerging high-paying jobs. Microsoft will also host labor summits, which will allow workers and labor leaders to work directly with AI product developers, researchers and business leaders to enable it to develop AI to be a “worker-centered technology.”

“This partnership reflects a recognition of the critical role workers play in the development, deployment and regulation of AI and related technologies,” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler in the press release.

In addition, Microsoft and the AFL-CIO will also work together to propose policies that help workers acquire skills and knowledge to flourish in the AI economy. The two organizations will support the expansion of registered apprenticeships, particularly in non-traditional tech occupations, and advocate for funding for career and technical education.

“On the AI curriculum front, LinkedIn Generative AI content will be tailored to specific sectors most impacted by AI, and Microsoft and the AFL-CIO’s Technology Institute will jointly develop and implement new content and professional learning opportunities to prepare workers for the future workplace,” Microsoft said.  

AI is likely to transform the workplace. While generative AI is likely to play a crucial role in addressing skills shortages, there is also a growing concern that AI will not just help enhance productivity and efficiency but will automate tasks, making many jobs redundant. Significantly, in a survey conducted by AFL-CIO earlier this year, 70% of those polled voiced concerns about AI replacing workers.

Zenimax-CWA Union records a win

The agreement between Microsoft and AFL-CIO makes it easier for employees at Microsoft to form unions, as the company has agreed not to conduct anti-union campaigns. This is in line with its overall approach to unionization, as it accepted the formation of the first certified union at its gaming subsidiary, ZeniMax, earlier this year.

In a related development, members of the ZeniMax Workers United-Communications Workers of America (CWA) have won a tentative agreement allowing them to have a say in the company’s adoption of AI in the workplace. It is the first unit at a major US tech company to reach an agreement over the use of AI at the workplace.

“The agreement commits ZeniMax to uses of AI that augment human ingenuity and capacities, to ensure that these tools enhance worker productivity, growth, and satisfaction without causing workers harm. Zenimax has agreed to provide notice to the union in cases where AI implementation may impact the work of union members and to bargain those impacts upon request,” according to a CWA press release.

The agreement establishes that the guiding principles behind AI implementation at work must be fair, reliable and safe, private and secure, inclusive, transparent and accountable.

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.


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