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In a letter to Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, about 24 American unions and civil society organizations draw attention to the appalling working conditions of data workers and how new technologies are harming them.

A separate letter that eight US politicians wrote to nine top American tech companies about the working conditions of their data workers in September and what they claim is the companies ‘ “failure to effectively answer” served as the impetus for the signatories, which include Turkopticon, the Distributed AI Research Institute, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, families for freedom, and TechEquity Collaborative.

The original&nbsp letter urges businesses to” never build AI]artificial intelligence” on the backs of utilized workers and describes how data workers are frequently subject to low wages with no benefits, constant surveillance, random mass rejections, wage theft, and working conditions that contribute to psychological distress. It is addressed to Google, OpenAI, Anthropic, Meta, Microsoft, Amazon, Inflection AI, ScaleAI.

The letter added that, in contrast to the widely held belief that AI is an intelligent autodidactic system, &nbsp, its operation in practice greatly depends on individual labor. It was signed by a number of senators and representatives, including Edward Markey, Ron Wyden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, as well as representatives Pramila Jayapal, Jamaal Bowman, Katie Porter, and Mark Pocan.

Each of the nine businesses received a letter from Computer Weekly asking for feedback on their reported insufficient response as well as the letter’s contents to Schumer. Scale AI said it had sent a response to the member of Congress, but it declined to add any more details, and Microsoft remained silent. None of the other businesses offered a response. Jayapal, who served as the lead member of Congress on the letter to tech firms, was also contacted by Computer Weekly to inquire about her satisfaction with the AI firms ‘ responses, but she did n’t hear back by the time the article was published.

Schumer is currently being urged by the coalition of unions and civil society organizations to think about how innovative technologies are affecting workers and to heed their demands.

They specifically urge Congress to improve safeguards against “predatory surveillance and automated management practices,” alter public policies that encourage job replacement or deskilling, strengthen workers ‘ right to organize and bargain over technological issues, and prioritize the health, safety of data workers who are developing AI and training.

workplace monitoring

The organizations ‘ letter alluded to a number of concerning working conditions, such as “intrusive workplace surveillance in order to maintain control over workers.” For instance, it describes how Amazon is supposedly using surveillance to retaliate against employees and restrict their ability to express their opinions or take action as a group. Similar to this, Google and Walmart employees have claimed that their employers used listening devices and browser extensions to stifle unionizing and organizing activities.

The letter’s signatories assert that this ongoing surveillance has resulted in a hazardous work environment and has sparked an epidemic of worker injuries.

They point out, for instance, that FedEx employees must wear a big scanner attached to their forearm, which has resulted in repetitive stress injuries, whereas Amazon uses its package scanners to track packages and measure the number of seconds between each scan to ensure that an item is moved along every 11 seconds.

80 % of employers use monitoring software, according to new ExpressVPN data, and 50 % of identified employees claim that these practices have a negative impact on their mental health. A UPS driver remarked,” It’s like you’re fighting for your job every day.”

The General Counsel for the National Labor Relations Board has issued a warning against anti-union surveillance because it may deter workers from exercising their constitutionally protected organising rights. The letter also stated that the normalization of workplace surveillance creates an unhealthy environment where employers can simply engage in it.

They wrote,” This is especially concerning for low-wage employees, job workers, or often marginalized people, including Black and Latinx workers for whom organizing for better conditions is more risky.”

computational control

According to the letter, data workers in the AI industry themselves suffer from lower pay, wage theft, close monitoring, and retaliation against organizing. For instance, it highlighted research that estimates nearly a third of workers ‘ time is spent on uncompensated work and noted that some Mechanical Turk ( Amazon’s digital labor platform ) employees have reported being paid below the minimum wage while receiving no health insurance or benefits.

Some are also&nbsp, paid without explanation, according to a report from Turkopticon in June 2023.

According to the letter, businesses have even used this technology to put employees at risk of being fired, fissured, deskilled, or paid less.

Despite claiming that the employees are separate businesses, electronic labor platforms like Uber and Amazon’s Flex use automated management to actualize unknown corporate control of the workers, according to the statement. Platform workers are consequently stripped of a variety of labor rights and protections, making them vulnerable to wage theft, discrimination, and on-the-job injuries.

It also brought up instances where employers have replaced employees using AI. For instance, the National Eating Disorder Association announced earlier this year that it would close its human-run helpline and switch to a chatbot in its place. After helpline employees voted to unionize, that decision was made. The chatbot ultimately gave people with eating disorders seeking assistance uncertain and even dangerous advice.

The Writers Guild of America’s negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers led to a deal outlining workers ‘ rights to credit and compensation, regardless of whether is used in part of their work, according to the letter, which also mentioned instances of workers and unions retaliating.

Rapid action is required.

In the end, the letter urged Schumer and Congress to act quickly in light of a quickly evolving technology.

To stop businesses like Amazon from leveraging tech-driven worker exploitation into profit and outperforming rivals by taking the small road, Congress should create a new generation of monetary policies and labor rights, they wrote.

The economy and tech innovation could be reoriented toward more equitable and sustainable outcomes by establishing strong protections related to workplace technology and restoring balance between workers and employers.

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