Microsoft partners with labor unions to shape and regulate AI

Redmond reassures AFL-CIO workers they won't be pushed out by technology

Microsoft is partnering with the largest US union group – representing 60 unions and more than 12 million workers – to explore how AI will impact labor, and help shape policies to support workers as the technology threatens to disrupt jobs.

The collaboration will see Microsoft work with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) to educate labor members on AI trends, and engage workers in sharing their feedback on the technology as it's being developed. They will also shape new workforce policies as roles and the job market changes overtime.

Proponents of AI believe that the tech will increasingly automate tasks, making workers more productive and leading to new types of jobs. But many workers fear they could be replaced by machines altogether.

AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler said that its partnership with Microsoft – apparently the first of its kind to be brokered between a labor organization and a tech company – will give workers a voice in conversations about deploying and regulating AI.

"This partnership reflects a recognition of the critical role workers play in the development, deployment and regulation of AI and related technologies," Shuler declared in a statement.

"The labor movement looks forward to partnering with Microsoft to expand workers' role in the creation of worker-centered design, workforce training and trustworthy AI practices. Microsoft's neutrality framework and embrace of workers' expertise signals that this new era of AI can also catalyze a new era of productive labor-management partnerships."

Microsoft promised to provide online resources describing AI developments, sharing up-to-date information on the latest moves in AI, educating workers on how AI works, and assessing its risks and future impacts. The software behemoth will also explore opportunities to train people for new types of AI jobs, and launch workshops focused on specific careers from 2024 to 2026.

Microsoft plans to host labor summits, inviting workers and their representatives in key sectors to talk to the software titan's researchers and developers building AI products. The discussions are designed to help Microsoft shape AI to be a "worker-centered technology" – making practical tools that are easy to use.

By engaging in conversations with officials from AFL-CIO, Microsoft hopes to influence future federal policies that will support the funding of apprenticeships and training for handling AI. Both parties stated that they will support legislation that would provide workers with new skills or economic assistance.

"By working directly with labor leaders, we can help ensure that AI serves the country's workers," explained Brad Smith, vice chair and president of Microsoft. "This groundbreaking partnership honors the rights of workers, learns from the advice of labor leaders as we develop technology, and helps us provide people with the skills that will become essential in a new AI era."

In related news, Microsoft's gaming subsidiary Zenimax and the Communications Workers of America (CWA) have tentatively agreed on rules for how AI should be used in the workplace. The proposal, covering 376 employees, states that Zenimax will use AI to augment labor, using the technology in a fair, reliable, safe, private, inclusive, transparent and accountable manner.

"Coming to this agreement was a high priority for us. It's hard to say how developments with AI may impact our work, but now we can be more confident that the agreement will help to protect us as we navigate the potential adoption of AI into our workflow," declared Dylan Burton, a senior QA tester and member of ZeniMax Workers United-CWA, in a statement.

"It is crucial that all workers have a voice in what role AI plays in their work and can hold their employers accountable for the impacts of its use. This agreement empowers us to shape the ways we may choose to use AI in our work and also gives us the means to address those impacts before their potential implementation." ®

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