““Innovation doesn’t always have to lead to increased inequality. It’s a choice: We can decide whether new tech will benefit society as a whole or if the gains will only go to a few.””
— Fred Redmond, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO
Labor leaders converged in Las Vegas last week — while the CES tech conference was going on — for a summit that centered on workers, and how technology affects them and their livelihoods.
The Labor Innovation and Technology Summit, founded in Las Vegas in 2019 by the AFL-CIO and SAG-AFTRA, advocates for giving a voice to workers as technology and automation impacts the way people live and work.
“CES is a stark reminder that technology is changing our work and workplaces every single day, no matter what kind of work you do,” Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO, said Friday during the summit, which was live-streamed.
Technology features prominently in some of the most high-profile issues around the future of the workplace — such as how algorithms and automation affect warehouse workers, app-based gig workers and more, or the broad economic effects of a rise in remote work.
Against that backdrop, Fred Redmond, secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, was among the labor leaders who emphasized the importance of labor unions in ensuring workers have a collective voice. The labor federation represents more than 12 million U.S. workers in different unions, and he said “the workers who are organizing and advocating and marching and striking are looking to us to make sure that the benefits of technology and automation are distributed fairly.”
Recent strikes and protests that are related to technology’s effects include those at Amazon.com Inc.
where workers from a number of warehouses have held unionization votes or tried to advocate for better pay and working conditions, and ride-hailing drivers’ protests against Uber Technologies Inc.
and Lyft Inc.
many of which are related to companies’ resistance to existing labor laws as they try to protect and preserve their business models, which rely on treating workers as independent contractors.
“We must not be slaves to AI and algorithms and gig-economy schemes that seek to drive down wages,” said Ben Whitehair, executive vice president of SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents actors, entertainers and more, during the summit.
In response to worker actions and continued criticism, Amazon, Uber and Lyft have touted what they say are competitive wages and flexible opportunities for workers.
Also among the attendees of the summit were Julie Su, U.S. deputy secretary of labor, and Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev.