Speech | Future of Work

Shuler's Speech at the AFL-CIO and Microsoft's New Tech-Labor Partnership Event

Washington, D.C.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler delivered the following remarks as prepared at the event:

Welcome to the House of Labor!

I think many of you here in the audience are aware that today we’re going to host what is hopefully a great and enlightening dialogue, between the AFL-CIO and Microsoft to talk about A.I., its impacts, and the future of work. 

We’ll get to that in just a few minutes and I want to thank Jackie Padilla of Politico for moderating today.

But what you may not know is that this conversation between the AFL-CIO and Microsoft has been happening for quite some time now.

We’ve been talking a lot in recent months about the challenges we see in this moment. And the common goals we all share — to make sure our economy and our country are successful, and stable, and have a bright future.

And how us coming together — in an unexpected and, really, unprecedented way — can get us closer to those goals. And can be mutually beneficial for workers, for businesses, and for our country as a whole.

So in that spirit, we have something else to announce today, too. 

Which is the parameters for an absolutely historic partnership between the AFL-CIO and one of the world’s largest technology companies. 

Never before in the history of these American tech giants, dating back 50 years or so has one of these companies made a broad commitment to labor rights, formalized it, and put it in writing. And that’s exactly what we have here today. 

I want to thank Microsoft Vice Chairman and President Brad Smith, and his entire team — we are creating something groundbreaking today. And before I turn it over to Brad, I want to say a few words about the path that got us here.

Brad and I have talked for a long time about this moment in American history. 

When you look around this country right now, you see a lot of destabilizing forces. A lot of distrust of institutions. People and workers in particular who are fed up with how they’ve been treated for a long time and, quite frankly, are scared about what the future might hold.

And there’s no issue that summarizes that better than A.I. Our own polling shows 70% of workers worry about being replaced by A.I. or automation.

The power of A.I. is massive. It’s frightening, in many cases. And right now, it’s the Wild West. It’s not good for workers to live in fear, to worry about their economic future. That’s not good for companies, our economy, or our country as a whole either. It hurts all of us to live in fear and uncertainty. 

I was at the A.I. Insight Forum a few weeks ago, led by Majority Leader Schumer, and I listened to Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates and Sam Altman. And while there were certainly pieces we may never see eye-to-eye on, we all agreed on a common point:

We want guardrails. We need a stabilizing force when it comes to A.I., before the genie is totally out of the bottle.

Today is both sides recognizing: Unions are a stabilizing force. 

That if we want A.I. used responsibly, and smartly, and successfully for all of us, unions need to be at the table. If you look around right now — more than any time in the past 60 years —the labor movement is the center of gravity. 

We are the pillar of people’s hopes and aspirations and dreams; their chance at a better job and better future. And so WE are the ones, with our collective power, to provide this counterweight we all need right now.

That is the fundamentally good business decision we’re seeing today: To bring us to the table; to give us a voice. Because it’ll make our companies better; it’ll make our economy better; and — I’m not exaggerating when it comes to A.I. — it will make the future of humanity better, too. That’s what’s at stake right now.

If you know your labor history, you see this story play out in every big technological revolution we’ve ever had. Some of you know my home union is the IBEW, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. 

Go back to when IBEW was founded, 130 years ago: Electricity was a deadly force. It was raw, unwieldy. It was the Wild West. 

Until electrical workers and power linemen bridged the gap between providers and consumers — made it safe and reliable for everyone.

And from that very first moment, whenever some new innovation occurred, IBEW workers were at the table right beside management. Giving their input. Making things go smoother. Because of the power of the union, because of the skill of these workers, that kind of partnership was understood. 

Workers are on the frontlines of using and delivering and harnessing the power of technology. 

We learn how it works — and how it doesn’t work. We figure out how to use it to make jobs safer, better, more efficient. Why wouldn’t you want the people who actually do the job to be involved in that process?

As I close, I just want to send a message to other tech companies and companies out there: This is what’s possible.

As a labor movement we’re operating on many fronts. 

Yes, we can stop traffic in the streets. We can stand toe-to-toe with any company in this country at the negotiating table and demand what’s ours.

But for those who are willing to engage us in good faith, and treat us like real partners on these critical issues  there’s an open invitation for discussion. We’re fighting like hell, in every way possible, to get our members’ voices to the table.

All over this country right now, in every sector of the economy we’re seeing workers stand together in a way they haven’t in generations. And in the case of the Tech sector, it’s really the first time ever.

To get worker input and representation on the ground floor of A.I. — so we’re helping design and create work that is going to lift up a whole sector — is huge. 

It’s what we’ve always done: Going industry by industry to make precarious or uncertain work into good, secure, high-wage, UNION jobs. 

I want to commend Brad and his team for their leadership and vision.  I can’t wait to see where we go from here. With that, it’s my pleasure to introduce someone who is a real leader on the issues of technology and democracy. Our partner in this partnership. The Vice Chairman and President of Microsoft: Brad Smith.

Tags: AI

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