Communications Workers of America Announces Union Principles for Artificial Intelligence in the Workplace
Workers prepare to leverage the power of union contracts to shape implementation of AI tools at work and ensure economic benefits are broadly shared
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) announced comprehensive new principles to guide union bargaining and public policy engagement over the implementation of artificial intelligence technologies in the workplace.
As American workers confront an uncertain future navigating the disruptive force of AI in the workplace, collective bargaining is one of the most powerful tools workers have to preserve the dignity of work and ensure that working families share in increased economic prosperity. Union contracts can set the rules for AI adoption, ensuring that workers have input into the design and implementation of new technologies and that new tools supplement and empower workers rather than automating and deskilling.
“AI has the potential to build prosperity and unleash human creativity, but only if it works for working people,” said Claude Cummings Jr., President of CWA. “We are taking a member-first approach and demanding that working Americans have a voice, guaranteed by their union contract, in how AI shapes the future of work.”
Earlier this year, CWA’s Executive Board established a Committee on Artificial Intelligence composed of members from across the union to study the impact of AI technology in CWA-represented workplaces. The work of this member-led initiative was informed by the direct experience of union members working with AI programs from diverse industries, including call centers, telecommunications, journalism, and tech. The committee included members of the Alphabet Workers Union-CWA who work on AI systems at Google and other Alphabet, Inc. companies.
The committee drafted principles and recommendations on how to address the challenges that AI presents through both bargaining strategy and public policy. The committee’s principles for bargaining include:
- Accountability: CWA members and leadership will not accept that the effects of AI systems are inevitable or pre-determined. We will hold company executives and management accountable for impacts that their decisions regarding AI have on workers, customers, and communities.
- Proactive Bargaining: CWA members and leadership will be proactive in confronting the issues raised by AI tools and systems in the workplace. Bargaining teams will prioritize this issue in contract negotiations and utilize the bargaining process to demand transparency from our employers. Bargaining teams will re-evaluate current contract language to identify how current language can provide protections against these systems and how new AI tools may circumvent established contract protections.
- Early & Meaningful Worker Voice: Worker voices should be represented at every stage of the development and implementation of AI tools. CWA members should have a voice in defining the goals for these new tools and their role in work processes.
Furthermore, CWA members and leadership have an imperative to bargain for contract language that protects against the negative effects AI tools can have in workplaces, including invasive surveillance, unfair automated employment decisions-making (including hiring, discipline, and pay-setting), unsafe and stressful work intensification and speed-up, the reduction of compensation or benefit levels, and the reduction of union members’ work.
In their report, the Committee on Artificial Intelligence wrote, “CWA has a long and proud history of bargaining over new technologies, limiting their negative impacts on workers, customers, and the public while ensuring that workers win their fair share of the economic gains that new technology can achieve. Our goal in bargaining is not to stop new technologies but to ensure the benefits of new technologies are broadly shared.”
New AI systems in the workplace have the potential to create economic gains when they lead to increased productivity. As they have done in the past, CWA members will bargain to capture their fair share of those economic gains, ensuring that working families see a rising standard of living and that these technologies do not contribute to the growth of inequality in this country.
About CWA: The Communications Workers of America represents working people in telecommunications, customer service, media, airlines, health care, public service and education, manufacturing, tech, and other fields.