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Navigating Job Changes: Microsoft and U.S. Union Unveil AI Training Initiative

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AI Impact on Employment: Microsoft and the largest union in the United States, the AFL-CIO, have entered into a groundbreaking collaboration to address the current challenges posed by the surge in artificial intelligence (AI) technology in the job market.

Announced on Monday, December 11th, in the Eastern United States, Microsoft declared a new partnership with the AFL-CIO, marking an unprecedented alliance between a technology giant and a federation representing 12.5 million workers. The collaboration aims to establish an open dialogue on how AI can predict and incorporate the needs of workers in its development and deployment processes. Microsoft’s statement highlights this as the first-ever focused collaboration between labor organizations and technology enterprises specifically centered around AI. The partnership is set to achieve three major objectives: sharing in-depth information on AI technology trends with labor leaders and workers, integrating the perspectives and expertise of workers into AI technology development, and aiding in the formulation of public policies that support the technological skills and needs of frontline workers.

According to the collaboration agreement, Microsoft and AFL-CIO will take action in three key areas. One of them involves providing AI education for workers and students. Microsoft will offer formal learning opportunities regarding the latest developments and future prospects of AI. These educational courses, scheduled to commence in the upcoming winter, will be led by Microsoft’s AI experts, providing insights into the operation and developmental directions of AI, outlining opportunities, and analyzing potential challenges.

Microsoft will also seek direct feedback from labor leaders and workers. To ensure that workers’ professional knowledge and viewpoints are utilized by Microsoft’s AI developers, a mechanism has been developed for labor leaders and workers to directly share their experiences, concerns, and feedback with developers. This collaboration will kick off in the winter of this year in the form of a labor summit hosted by Microsoft.

In the third aspect, as discussions about the future legislation on AI and the workforce take place in the U.S. Congress, Microsoft and AFL-CIO will jointly propose supportive policies to provide workers with the necessary skills, knowledge, and economic support in the AI-driven economic development.

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Moreover, the agreement includes a template of neutral clauses, drawing from a template previously established by Microsoft in the video game industry. The neutral agreement commits Microsoft to refrain from initiating anti-union movements against workers’ organizations, making it easier for unions to organize within Microsoft. Microsoft will provide a neutral framework for future worker organizations affiliated with AFL-CIO, affirming the respect for the rights of employees to form or join unions, developing positive labor-management relationships, and committing to negotiate collective bargaining agreements. In this era of rapid technological change, the framework aims to provide support for workers.

Microsoft’s President, Brad Smith, stated on Monday that the goal of the collaboration is to collectively discuss “improving” people’s ways of working.

He said, “I can’t sit here and say AI will never replace jobs. I think that’s not honest. AI is carefully designed to speed up some of the jobs that you might consider tedious and eliminate that part of the work.”

AFL-CIO’s President, Liz Shuler, described the collaboration as a “groundbreaking” and “historic” alliance, recognizing the crucial role of workers in the development, deployment, and regulation of AI and related technologies.

Microsoft’s statement also mentioned that a recent AFL-CIO poll revealed that 70% of surveyed workers are concerned about being replaced by AI. Microsoft’s recent research found that 70% of employees would delegate as much work as possible to AI to alleviate their workload. Both Microsoft and AFL-CIO acknowledge that if AI is used to enhance work rather than reduce workers’ agency and responsibility, it can truly enhance workers’ job capabilities.

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