Beyond Automation: The Law & Political Economy of Workplace Technological Change
Posted: 6 Feb 2019 Last revised: 4 Apr 2019
Date Written: February 4, 2019
This article unpacks the relationship among advanced information technologies, employment law rules, and labor standards. Based on a detailed review of the capacities of existing technologies, it argues that automation is not a major threat to workers today, and that it will not likely be a major threat anytime soon. Companies are, however, using new information technologies to exercise power over workers in other ways, all of which are enabled by existing employment laws. For example, they are increasingly using algorithms to monitor, direct, or schedule workers, in the process reducing workers’ wages or autonomy. Companies are also using new technologies to “fissure” employment: outsourcing work tasks or processes and then disclaiming legal duties toward workers, all while closely monitoring workers’ performance. These findings have policy implications. If the major threat facing workers is employer domination rather than job loss, then exotic reforms such as a universal basic income are less urgent. Rather, policymakers could expand the scope and stringency of companies’ duties toward their workers, and/or enable workers to contest the introduction of new workplace technologies.
Keywords: Machine Learning, Labor Law, Employment Law, Law and Political Economy
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