Workers and their unions took center stage in 2023 by negotiating landmark agreements that address emerging workplace technologies. Alongside establishing fundamental rights regarding the adoption of new technologies, unions negotiated protective measures for workers, provisions ensuring workers share in the benefits of these advancements, and even reined in certain technological applications. Here’s a closer look at some of the major technology bargaining agreements reached this year.
Technology & Work
Lisa Kresge is a policy research associate in the Technology and Work Program at the Labor Center, where she studies the intersection of technological change, low-wage work, and inequality. Her research focuses on data collection and algorithmic technologies in the workplace. Lisa has also conducted research on tax policy as it relates to new technologies and technology companies as well as collective bargaining strategies in response to technological change. Prior to joining the Labor Center, Lisa conducted research on farmworker health, housing, and working conditions at the California Institute for Rural Studies. She has a multidisciplinary background in the social sciences, including a dual undergraduate degree in anthropology and sociology and a master’s degree in community development from UC Davis. Lisa is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in economic geography at UC Davis.
Response to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Request for Information on Automated Worker Surveillance and Management
Our goal in this comment is to highlight evidence indicating the prevalence of automated workplace surveillance and management technologies, impact on workers resulting from employers’ use of these systems, and principles and policy models for worker technology rights and protections.
A 1987 report from the federal Office of Technology Assessment recognized the potential for employers to misuse and abuse new technologies resulting in adverse effects for workers, but recommended a “wait and see” approach due to lack of data to justify regulation. This blog post reviews decades of research since publication of the report that finds electronic performance monitoring (EPM) systems do increase worker stress and cause other harms.
We provide an overview of existing research that attempts to measure the prevalence of employers’ use of workplace management technologies – i.e., technologies that are used to monitor, evaluate, or make predictions about workers, or assist or augment their tasks.
General Comments by the UC Berkeley Labor Center on the OSTP Bill of Rights for an Automated Society Initiative
The UC Berkeley Labor Center’s Technology and Work program provided input to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) initiative on developing a Bill of Rights for an Automated Society.
“If technologies are not developed with the user in mind, they often fail,” said Lisa Kresge, a research and policy associate at the University of California Berkeley Labor Center, who has written about union responses to technology.
More and more unions are bargaining for advanced notice of new technology from employers, helping them understand in real time whether it will displace workers or change the environment, said Lisa Kresge, a researcher at the University of California-Berkeley who studies tech clauses in union contracts.
Productivity scores give the impression that they are objective and impartial and can be trusted because they are technologically derived – but are they? How the proprietary systems arrive at their scores is often as unclear to managers as it is to workers, says Kresge.
Amazon warehouse workers have criticized management’s use of technology to closely monitor their productivity. They could look to past examples of unions addressing similar concerns, says UC Berkeley researcher Lisa Kresge.
“Basically, these are largely untested technologies with virtually no oversight,” said Lisa Kresge, research and policy associate at the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center, who studies the intersection of technological change and inequality. “That’s unprecedented in the workplace.”
Annette Bernhardt, Lisa Kresge, and Reem Suleiman of the UC Berkeley Labor Center argue that companies should be required to reveal “which activities will be monitored, the method of monitoring, the data that will be gathered, the times and places where the monitoring will occur, and the purpose for monitoring and why it is necessary.”
“The lesson of self-checkout is that all this technology still requires a substantial amount of human labor to back up these systems,” said Lisa Kresge, research and policy associate at the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education.