From algorithms firing staff without human intervention to software keeping tabs on bathroom breaks, technologies including artificial intelligence are already upsetting workers and unsettling workplaces.
At call centers, AI systems record and grade how workers handle calls, often giving failing grades for not sticking to the script. Some corporate software spies on workers to see whether they ever write the word “union” in their emails.
As technologies grow ever more sophisticated in monitoring, surveilling and speeding up workers, many workplace experts say US businesses, labor unions and government are not doing nearly enough to protect workers from tech’s downsides.
“Workers are being constantly monitored, and AI-based monitoring tools can make mistakes that can translate into unfair pay cuts or firings,” said Virginia Doellgast, a professor of employment relations at Cornell. “Workers often don’t know what monitoring tools are being used, what data the tools are collecting or how that data is used to evaluate their performance.”
In Europe, unlike in the US and Canada, many unions have been pushing for years for protections against some of the more intrusive ways that AI tools track and manage workers. “This issue has yet to be put at the center of the radar for unions in North America,” said Valerio De Stefano, a labor law professor at York University in Toronto, who has written extensively on AI’s use in the workplace. “Unions in Europe are more aware of the uses of technologies from the surveillance standpoint. This is not something that unions in North America have focused on.”