Attached is the report of the AFL-CIO Commission on the Future of Work and Unions. At the many conferences about “the future of WORK,” there is rarely a seat at the table for workers or worker representatives. This report is the labor movement’s contribution to the debate over the future of WORKERS.
Working people should be at the center of this debate – not only because we are directly affected, but also because we have a lot of experience in this area. Workers and their union representatives have been dealing with issues of automation and technology in the workplace for decades, and we have learned a few things along the way.
We understand the potential of technology to improve our jobs and our lives and make our planet a better place to live. If technology makes workers far more productive in the future, we will produce more with fewer hours of work. This should allow us to raise living standards across the board, conquer poverty, and spend less time at work. The critical question is, “How do we ensure that the benefits of technological progress and productivity growth are shared broadly by working people?”
We know from experience that the key is to strengthen workers’ bargaining power. When working people have sufficient bargaining power – individually and collectively, in our workplaces, in our communities, and in the economy – we can claim our share of the wealth we help create. Workers share in the benefits of technological progress when we have good jobs with rising wages and rising living standards, and when displaced workers can easily find another good job.
To strengthen workers’ bargaining power, we have to address the impact of technology on jobs and skills, which are staple topics in the “future of work” debate. However, we will also have to address challenges that are often overlooked in this debate, such as the failure of the current rules of the global economy; the growth of subcontracting and “fissured” business models; the central role of Wall Street in driving economic inequality, unbalanced globalization, and "fissuring"; and the growing use of data and algorithms in the workplace. We will also have to build and sustain working class solidarity as black and brown workers make up a larger share of the workforce.
Most importantly, our Commission concludes that it is up to us to shape the future; the future of workers is not determined in advance. Bad jobs and rising inequality are not inevitable; they are the consequence of bad policy choices that can and should be made differently. Technology does not necessarily increase inequality; technological change in the 1950s and 1960s was faster than today, yet inequality fell more than at any other time in our history. Technology does not fall from the sky; it is shaped by countless decisions made in the public funding of innovation and in the design and deployment of technology in the workplace. Workers must be involved in making the decisions that shape our future, and we must have a seat at the table early in the decision-making process.
I hope you find our report on the Future of Work and Unions useful as you consider what steps Congress can take to secure a brighter future for America's working families.
Director, Government Affairs