Automation and the workforce

By Jarrell Cook & Nicole Rice

Capitol Update, March 23, 2018 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend


On March 20, the Assembly Labor & Employment and the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committees held a joint hearing to discuss the impacts of technological advancements in automation and artificial intelligence on the future of California’s workforce. Over the past year, the concern over workers being displaced by robots and automation has become a priority issue for organized labor – at the hearing, a representative of a union lobbying group described automation as an “existential threat” that they perceive to be on the scale of “right to work” legislation.

The perceived tension between automation and organized labor has resulted in policies that could ultimately affect manufacturer’s ability to remain competitive in the global marketplace. For example, in 2017, we saw the influence of these concerns in a budget bill, AB 134, which barred the California Air Resources Board (CARB) from allocating funds from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to purchase cargo handling equipment that was automated without human intervention or control, remotely operated, or remotely monitored.

This year, Senator Henry Stern (D-Sherman Oaks) is expected to amend his SB 1470 to establish the California Commission on Technology, Automation and the Future of Work.  Sponsored by California Labor Federation and the Teamsters, the Commission would be charged with developing policies to assess the impact of new technologies on workers, incentivize the development of technology to benefit workers and the public, mitigate any negative impacts, and distribute the benefits of technology fairly and equitably. It will include representatives from academia, the tech industry, union membership and policy makers. According to the bill's fact sheet, the Commission's goal will be to develop recommendations on how to shape the future workplace to benefit workers, communities and society at large.

CMTA is encouraging the Legislature to move away from protectionist policies anchored in the past and, instead, look to the experience of the manufacturing industry as an example of how government and industry can collaborate. Manufacturers know that the best thing policymakers can do to prepare workers for the impact of a modernizing workplace is to develop a strong educational pipeline that emphasizes technical training, as well as provide the tools necessary to retrain and upskill workers for the new economy.

CMTA will engage in these debates and provide context to the discussion to ensure that the opportunities of automation are properly framed and legislators see the manufacturing industry as an example of how this new technology encourages safety, efficiency, and productivity to the benefit of workers and employers. 

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