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How companies are using AI in the workplace – and employees are complaining

Woman feeling tired and unhappy at customer care support job

The increased use of AI in the workplace is prompting a backlash from employees and sparking concerns about privacy and fairness. 

From algorithms autonomously terminating staff to software scrutinizing bathroom breaks, employers are using AI rigorously.

In call centers, AI systems meticulously monitor how employees handle calls, often penalizing deviations from scripted responses. 

Some corporate software even surveils workers to detect any mention of the term "union" in their emails.

Workers are being constantly monitored, and AI-based monitoring tools can make mistakes that can translate into unfair pay cuts or firings.” 

Experts say US businesses, labor unions, and governments are inadequately safeguarding workers against the negative impacts of these technologies. 

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Virginia Doellgast, a professor of employment relations at Cornell, said: “Workers are being constantly monitored, and AI-based monitoring tools can make mistakes that can translate into unfair pay cuts or firings.” 

Unlike Europe, where unions have long advocated for protections against invasive monitoring methods, the issue has yet to gain prominence on the agenda of North American unions. 

Some German companies have successfully negotiated protections for workers against algorithmic terminations and the use of digital monitoring data for disciplinary purposes.

Unions are catching up in the U.S

German telecom giant Deutsche Telekom prohibits AI from firing workers without human involvement and bans digital monitoring data for individual worker discipline.

US labor unions are intensifying efforts to secure protections in response to the downsides of AI and algorithmic management.

In some call centers, the Communications Workers of America union has mandated managers to inform workers when calls are recorded.

The union also ensured recording was solely for training, not worker evaluation or discipline.

Germany's legal framework requires companies to notify works councils about adopting new technologies, including AI. 

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Work councils at Deutsche Telekom have successfully limited AI-based performance data against individual workers.

They agreed employers can gather such data for groups of at least five employees.

Critics argue the technology and algorithms are unreliable, often producing discriminatory outcomes, especially in hiring

The primary US labor federation, AFL-CIO, has established a technology institute to address AI and other technology-related challenges.

The union plans for training sessions to educate union leaders about these technologies.

The US Chamber of Commerce touts the benefits of AI for worker performance and safety.

However, advocates address the need for strong labor standards, union bargaining power, and worker involvement in AI adoption to ensure fair and equitable outcomes.

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