‘The Next Fight On the Horizon’: The Worker Perspective on AI Technology

IAM Canada Research Director Ivana Saula led a panel discussion at the 40th IAM Grand Lodge Convention about Artificial Intelligence and its impact on workers in the Machinists Union’s heaviest industries.

“This is the next fight on the horizon, for all workers, not just Machinists,” said Saula.

To understand the impact of automation on workers in industries like air transportation, manufacturing, shipbuilding, aerospace, healthcare, and hospitality, and to offer a worker perspective, the IAM launched a study of automation and published a report, “Charting Change: Workers’ Voices in an Automated World”, which offers conclusions and recommendations that come from focus groups with union members’ experiences, needs, and daily realities regarding automation.

“What we found out is that technological change isn’t only about job losses, it’s also about de-skilling, wage stagnation, surveillance, merging of tasks, and of course job loss, which is often the last stage of technological change,” said Saula. “There are many signs that precede job losses, and with that, opportunities to intervene.”

READ: Charting Change: Workers’ Voices in an Automated World 

The panel consisted of Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) Executive Vice President Larry Rousseau and Director of the AFL-CIO Technology Institute Amanda Ballantyne.

“Every single worker that you represent is going to be affected by technological change, artificial intelligence, and automation,” said Rousseau. “We are very concerned that the government has not given a second thought to what labour can do to help that transition into what we’re going to be seeing.”

IAM Canada and the CLC are putting pressure on the Canadian government to add a representative from labour to its AI advisory council. The Council currently includes leading AI experts from Canadian industry, civil society, academia, and government – but none from labour.

TAKE ACTION: Sign the Petition if you agree that workers need to be represented on the government’s Advisory Council on Artificial Intelligence.

“We need to make sure, as trade unionists, that worker voice, worker rights, and our democratic principles, are at the core of the development of United States artificial intelligence technology, it’s really important,” said Ballantyne, speaking to the American workers’ perspective.

Ballantyne added that workers need to ensure that the U.S. and Canada are able to domestically enforce regulation of AI technology, as opposed to relying on global trade agreements, which are often unenforceable, to govern the development of AI technology.

“There are a lot of different ways that AI could impact the workforce,” said Ballantyne. “Some of them could be really good. Some of them could be improving worker safety and making work processes more efficient, and really moving towards assistive technologies that make work better, safer, faster.”

“The fact that our union has survived for 134 years, speaks to our resilience and adaptability,” said Saula. “The IAM has withstood the test of time, proving that no challenge is too great to overcome; it’s clear that we have adapted to every challenge.”