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Microsoft, AFL-CIO partner on workplace AI



Dive Brief:

  • A new Microsoft and AFL-CIO partnership will focus on artificial intelligence and its effects on workers, the two organizations announced in a shared press release Monday.
  • AFL-CIO and Microsoft said the effort is focused on three goals: sharing information with labor leaders, workers and students on AI trends; incorporating worker perspectives and expertise in AI development; and shaping public policy to support front-line workers’ technology skills and needs.
  • Additionally, Microsoft said it would provide formal learning on AI developments to labor leaders and workers starting in winter 2024. The sessions will include on-demand, digital resources, and the company will work with the American Federation of Teachers on exploring opportunities to prepare students for AI jobs, Microsoft said.

Dive Insight:

With its billion-dollar investment in OpenAI, developer of generative AI platform ChatGPT, Microsoft could be viewed as a natural partner for labor organizations like AFL-CIO looking to help workers adjust to the changes wrought by AI.

But the announcement also makes sense for Microsoft, whose overtures to unions led AFL-CIO and the Communications Workers of America to support its acquisition of video game developer Activision Blizzard, Game Developer reported.

“By working directly with labor leaders, we can help ensure that AI serves the country’s workers,” Brad Smith, vice chair and president at Microsoft, said in the press release. “This groundbreaking partnership honors the rights of workers, learns from the advice of labor leaders as we develop technology, and helps us provide people with the skills that will become essential in a new AI era.”

Last year marked the formation of Microsoft’s first-ever union when quality assurance testers for subsidiary ZeniMax Studios held a successful representation vote. Microsoft said the AFL-CIO partnership includes an agreement by the tech giant to prove “a neutrality framework for future worker organizing by AFL-CIO affiliate unions.”

Liz Shuler, president of AFL-CIO, said the framework “signals that this new era of AI can also catalyze a new era of productive labor-management partnerships.”

“This partnership reflects a recognition of the critical role workers play in the development, deployment and regulation of AI and related technologies,” Shuler added. “The labor movement looks forward to partnering with Microsoft to expand workers’ role in the creation of worker-centered design, workforce training and trustworthy AI practices.”

The news comes at a pivotal moment in AI development and deployment with Microsoft and its competitors pushing to integrate generative AI tools into existing workplace products. Worker sentiment on AI is divided; some employees say they’re confident in their ability to use the tech, while others worry it will displace them.

A proactive learning and development approach on the part of employers may help prepare workers for AI’s introduction, according to a recent Adecco Group report. In October, a Puralsight survey of software developers found that a stronger learning culture could improve resilience to changes brought by AI.

On the L&D front, Microsoft said its subsidiary LinkedIn would produce generative AI content that is tailored to sectors most impacted by AI. The company also said it would work with AFL-CIO to support expansion of registered apprenticeships.

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