Technology and Work

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The UC Berkeley Labor Center’s Technology and Work Program provides worker organizations and policymakers with the research, policy analysis, and training they need in order to respond to rapid technological change in the workplace and ensure that AI and other digital technologies benefit rather than harm workers. We focus on low-wage industries and the workers of color, women, and immigrants who are often on the frontlines of experimentation with emerging technologies.

Research & Publications

Annette Bernhardtand Sara Hinkley

What Workers and Unions Stand to Gain from Recent Executive Orders on Artificial Intelligence

We outline core principles for how government action on AI can benefit public and private sector workers, and comment on how two recent executive orders reflect those principles. Our goal is to help inform the significant work that lies ahead for federal, state, and local governments in their efforts to model responsible use of AI.

Lisa Kresge

Negotiating Workers’ Rights at the Frontier of Digital Workplace Technologies in 2023

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.

Annette Bernhardt, Lisa Kresgeand Kung Feng

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.

Sara Hinkley

Technology in the public sector and the future of government work

This report explores how governments use technology, what drives technology adoption, and how technologies affect public sector workers and the delivery of public services. Using examples across local, state, and federal governments, the report finds that transparency and accountability have lagged behind rapid technology adoption in the wake of COVID-19, and that public sector workers play a critical role in ensuring that technology is used to strengthen the ability of governments to provide quality and equitable public services.

Lisa Kresgeand MT Snyder

35 Years Under Electronic Monitoring and Still Waiting for Worker Rights

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.

Chris Benner, Sarah Mason, Françoise Carréand Chris Tilly

Delivering Insecurity: E-commerce and the Future of Work in Food Retail

This report examines trends in food retail in the U.S. preceding and up through the pandemic, assessing how e-commerce is likely to affect workers in the industry in the next 5-10 years. In contrast to widespread fears that technology leads to automation-related job loss, e-commerce is creating jobs, as customers are now paying for tasks that they used to do themselves for free. But for most of these new positions, job quality is a serious concern, and the passage of Proposition 22 in California this fall exacerbates the problem.

Lisa Kresge

Union Collective Bargaining Agreement Strategies in Response to Technology

This paper reviews strategies that unions have used to leverage their collective bargaining agreements to address technological change, both past and present. It groups these approaches into three categories: those focused on establishing rights and roles regarding the decision to adopt new technology, those designed to mitigate the introduction of new technology, and those related to the use of technology in workforce management.

Emlyn Bottomley

Data and Algorithms in the Workplace: An Overview of Current Public Policy Strategies

This paper provides an inventory of existing and proposed public policy strategies designed to mitigate the risks and maximize the benefits of data-driven technologies when applied in the workplace. The strategies are organized into five groups: notice and transparency, accountability, individual data rights, workplace rights, and government oversight and regulation.

Press Coverage

The Verge

Where are all the robot trucks?

While it is true that the 20 vehicles that Aurora puts on the road next year are unlikely to put any truckers out of work, unions are interested in protecting careers in the long term, not just the careers of current members. A 2018 study from the UC Berkeley Labor Center found that roughly 294,000 long-distance drivers could be displaced by autonomous technology.

NASA

NASA and UC Berkeley Host Discussion on the Future of AI at Work

The role of AI as a tool for school and business was a key theme of the symposium. Annette Bernhardt, director of the technology and work program at the UC Berkeley Labor Center, emphasized the balance between worker privacy and the benefit of highly productive AI tools.

New York Times

Tech Fears Are Showing Up on Picket Lines

“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.

Program Contacts