Labor seeks to break into the debate over robots
Three decades after Ronald Reagan broke the air traffic controllers union, organized labor is still trying to regain its footing. Just 10% of American workers belong to unions, half the percentage of the Reagan era.
What's happening: Later this month, the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor group, will convene a closed conference call of the leaders of its 55 associated unions to start figuring out how to climb back, Elizabeth Shuler, the AFL-CIO's secretary-treasurer, tells Axios. Later this year, they will gather in Washington, DC, to advance the process.
Why it matters: Robots and jobs are among the most-discussed subjects on the planet. Yet labor — the long-time voice of workers who will be most affected by the technological change — is all but missing from the conversation when thinkers discuss how to address the new age of automation.
- "All the trappings of your life are connected to your employment arrangement," Shuler says. "The employer-employee relationship is being threatened. You see employers shedding that responsibility. Why not? Of course they would do that."
Be smart: The union has an uphill climb against a deep anti-labor stigma in the U.S., and it knows it. But sentiments change, and so much else is topsy-turvy that a turnaround it is not inconceivable. Says Shuler: "We need to be new, different, relevant, attractive to people. People want to know, 'How does this benefit me?'"
The bottom line: Here is the thinking that Shuler will press: "What kind of society are we going to have if you can't make it? When you have atomization, amazonization and part-timization of work? No one is going to have decent wages, retirement, pensions."