Microsoft and Union Reach Agreement on AI Usage Terms

Microsoft has agreed to union contract language regarding its use of artificial intelligence, which should give workers a voice when challenging how the technology’s deployed. This is the first US instance of collective bargaining in Microsoft’s history and could be a huge step for those employed with the tech giant. This came to pass as part of negotiations with the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union and involves contract language that covers a few hundred staffers at which includes well-known subsidiaries like Bethesda and Arkane, among others. The gist here is that the contract language incorporates Microsoft’s previously-announced AI principles, sort of a ten commandments type deal. The language dictates that AI systems will “treat all people fairly” and “empower everyone.” To that end, it will give employees covered under the contract an avenue of recourse should they feel that Microsoft isn’t holding up its end of the bargain. Microsoft even as full-time employees, potentially as a show of good faith. “The goal is to ensure tools and technologies benefit rather than harm workers,” the contract states. The language stipulates that Microsoft must inform the CWA whenever AI or related automation technology is implemented in a way that could impact workers. If requested, the company must enter into good-faith negotiations regarding the change. This is a big first step, considering Microsoft’s massive play into the AI space. This would be news on its own, given Microsoft’s former hesitance to engage with unions in any way, shape or form. However, there’s more. The company also the country’s largest federation of unions. The entities struck a deal that ensures Microsoft will remain neutral in efforts by unions to encourage workers to join up. The partnership also creates an “open dialogue” to discuss AI and how it impacts workers. The AFL-CIO calls this team-up the “first of its kind between a labor organization and a technology company.” Microsoft has committed to share information with labor leaders regarding impactful AI trends and consider “worker perspectives” when developing new technologies. Why the about face? There’s a whole lot of uncertainty out there regarding artificial intelligence and how it will impact workers across multiple industries. It looks like Microsoft is setting itself up to be the “adult in the room” when compared to rival entities. It’s worth noting, though, that Microsoft shareholders that would slow down AI spending until a risk-assessment project could be conducted.