Published on December 11, 2023, 3:10 pm
Microsoft has announced a new agreement with the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States. This partnership aims to address concerns about the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) on American workers. It is part of Microsoft’s effort to set itself apart from other tech companies on this issue.
The agreement includes a “neutrality framework” that will apply to future organizing efforts by workers under affiliated unions. It confirms both Microsoft and AFL-CIO’s commitment to respecting the right of employees to form or join unions, fostering positive labor-management relationships, and negotiating collective bargaining agreements. The framework acknowledges the need for support in a rapidly changing era of technology.
AI has become a contentious topic in various labor negotiations over the past year, including recent strikes by Hollywood screenwriters and actors. Microsoft has been at the forefront of raising awareness about the benefits and risks of generative AI through its partnership with OpenAI, the creator of ChatGPT.
During an event in Washington, D.C., AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and Microsoft President Brad Smith announced this groundbreaking union agreement. The audience included prominent union leaders like United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain, who recently led a successful strike against major automakers.
This agreement is significant as it marks Microsoft’s first comprehensive union agreement addressing AI-related issues. Previously, shareholders rejected a proposal urging Microsoft to slow down its AI development to thoroughly study its impacts. However, this new collaboration reflects Microsoft’s shift in perspective regarding unions.
Speaking at the event was Claude Cummings Jr., president of the Communications Workers of America, who highlighted that young talent might be more inclined to join unions due to such initiatives by companies like Microsoft. In negotiations with ZeniMax, which involved acquiring game companies Activision-Blizzard and ZeniMax, Microsoft reportedly made concessions regarding AI by converting some contractors into employees.
While Microsoft has expressed neutrality towards unions within its core engineering or corporate workforce, it hasn’t seen significant labor movement in these areas. The focus has primarily been on Microsoft’s video-game companies, particularly in testing and quality assurance departments where union movements have historically been stronger.
In contrast to Microsoft, other tech giants like Amazon have taken a more confrontational stance towards unionization efforts within their workforce. When asked about the possibility of serving as a model for the industry, Brad Smith emphasized respecting each company’s right to make its own decisions while acknowledging that success can inspire others to follow suit.
This agreement between Microsoft and AFL-CIO marks an important milestone in addressing AI’s impact on workers’ rights. It demonstrates Microsoft’s commitment to fostering positive relationships with unions and adapting to the changing landscape of technological advancements. As discussions surrounding AI continue to evolve, it will be interesting to see if other companies follow suit and prioritize similar agreements with worker unions.
In addition to this announcement, there were several other key points discussed during the event which touched upon different aspects of technology and policy. However, this agreement remains at the forefront as a significant step towards ensuring worker protection amid technological advancements.