A Future Filled With Robots
As a native San Franciscan, I live in the epicenter of technology while working, some might say, in a 20th-century business model: labor unions.
Does the rise of tech signal the end of work as we know it?
Maybe. As long as workers are exploited (and I don’t see any worldwide epiphanies to the contrary), labor unions will have opportunities to organize and lead the way.
Rome Aloise, International Vice President and Secretary-Treasurer of Teamsters Local 853, has opened the door for organized labor in the tech industry. Aloise has invested his union’s resources in organizing tech shuttle bus drivers including workers at Apple, eBay, Evernote, Genentech, Yahoo, and Zynga. The Teamsters have won three-year contracts which raise pay, offer overtime and paid holidays, subsidize health care and address the issue of split shifts.
Congratulations to Aloise and the Teamsters on a hard-won battle.
I can’t help worrying about what will happen to these jobs when cars and buses go driverless. Knowing Aloise, he has a plan up his sleeve, but if you think I’m exaggerating about driverless cars, listen to NPR’s Terry Gross interview John Markoff, New York Times science and technology reporter. The author of newly-released Machines of Loving Grace, Markoff predicts a future of driverless cars.
In this future, vehicles may be safer, but I wonder where all the drivers will go to work? Not to the warehouses. Those jobs are being automated too.
Organized labor must have a vision for a tech-dependent future. How can we help members adapt to tectonic changes in the workplace? Where will people work in a society that has abdicated decision-making to artificial intelligence?
These are not just difficult questions; they are moral questions. If work brings dignity, are we setting up the next generation for a life of worthlessness, insecurity, and more poverty?
I don’t have the answers, but we should talk about these issues now to ensure that organized labor is included in the conversation before it’s too late and our point of view is no longer relevant.