Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Thursday, March 21, 2019

Why Unions Are Essential To Tackling The Technology Challenge To Good Jobs

Why Unions Are Essential To Tackling The Technology Challenge To Good Jobs

New technology is keeping more and more workers stuck in low-wage jobs, and it’s society’s responsibility to make sure those jobs still have dignity and fair wages.

With robots taking over factories and warehouses, toll collectors and cashiers increasingly being replaced by automation and even legal researchers being replaced by computers, the age-old question of whether technology is a threat to jobs is back with us big-time. Technological change has been seen as a threat to jobs for centuries, but the history tells that while technology has destroyed some jobs, the overall impact has been to create new jobs, often in new industries. Will that be true after the information revolution as it was in the industrial revolution?

In an article in The New York Times, David Autor and David Dorn, who have just published research on this question, argue that the basic history remains the same: While many jobs are being disrupted, new jobs are being created and many jobs will not be replaceable by computers. While there is good news in their analysis for some in the middle-class, their findings reinforce the need to organize workers in lower-skilled jobs to demand decent wages.

The authors’ research found that while routine jobs are being replaced by computers, the number of both “abstract” and “manually intensive” jobs increased. In their article in the Times, the authors describe the new jobs:

At one end are so-called abstract tasks that require problem-solving, intuition, persuasion and creativity. These tasks are characteristic of professional, managerial, technical and creative occupations, like law, medicine, science, engineering, advertising and design. People in these jobs typically have high levels of education and analytical capability, and they benefit from computers that facilitate the transmission, organization and processing of information.

On the other end are so-called manual tasks, which require situational adaptability, visual and language recognition, and in-person interaction. Preparing a meal, driving a truck through city traffic or cleaning a hotel room present mind-bogglingly complex challenges for computers. But they are straightforward for humans, requiring primarily innate abilities like dexterity, sightedness and language recognition, as well as modest training. These workers can’t be replaced by robots, but their skills are not scarce, so they usually make low wages.

As the authors conclude, “This bifurcation of job opportunities has contributed to the historic rise in income inequality.”

When it comes to addressing this attack on the middle class, the authors offer some hope, but not for those low-wage workers. They argue that a large number of skilled jobs, requiring specialized training – although not necessarily a college education –will not be replaceable by computers. These include people who care for our health, like medical paraprofessionals; people who care for our buildings like plumbers; people who help us use technology (I was on chatting online just yesterday to get tech support), and many others. Because these jobs do require higher levels of skills, they should be able to demand middle-class wages.

  • Share this on Google+0
  • Share this on Linkedin0
  • Share this on Reddit0
  • Print this page
  • 141

35 responses to “Why Unions Are Essential To Tackling The Technology Challenge To Good Jobs”

  1. highpckts says:

    If unions want to survive they better change the way they do business! They became the bullies of the corporations and made unreasonable demands just because they could! They were making just as much money as the companies they busted! They need new rules or they won’t survive!

    • Allan Richardson says:

      I’ve never heard of a group of workers who decided to get out of a union because they felt sorry for their company. Companies busted unions that were POPULAR with their members by closing down and reopening under a new name (“this is not the company that signed the contract with your union”) and rehiring only the workers who were desperate enough to pledge not to try to get a union started. They outsourced jobs to countries with third world wages and weak or no pollution and worker protection laws. Then some of them made a big production out of returning to US production WITHOUT their former unions.

      When corporate managers claimed that unions were “killing them” they were usually cooking the books because the senior officers were “only” getting tens of millions a year instead of the hundreds of millions they wanted. And THEY had the power to be the bullies and get rid of unions, especially after “buying” the lawmakers and laws they wanted.

      • ObozoMustGo says:

        And unions don’t by lawmakers and laws they want? Allan, they are the largest donors EVERY election cycle.

        • Allan Richardson says:

          Obozo, the 1950’s called. They want their statistics back. Considering that the percentage of unionized workers is about 20 percent of what it was in the 1970’s, and union workers do not get paid huge amounts (more than non-union, but not the huge salaries you claim — except for celebrities in the SAG who earn FAR more than union scale, professional athletes in their unions, and the “union” of the CEO old boys network), where would those “largest” donations come from? Unions can only put in 5 percent, at most, what the wealthy donors on the right (Sheldon Adelson, the Koch brothers, De Vos and Van Andel, and many corporate-funded super PAC’s such as Crossroads) are KNOWN to have given. Your “facts” are pure fantasy. Show me some figures you didn’t just make up.

          And incidentally, unions today do NOT use dues to make ANY political donations. They have separate funds for political education, to which the members may VOLUNTARILY make SEPARATE contributions, and no one is forced to donate. In RTWFL states, even DUES are not mandatory, but smart union members pay their dues because they know who will help them file grievances if the bosses unjustly discipline them (and one local of the CWA takes up about 30 minutes or more with reports on grievances every month, with the majority of that in the form of PREACHING for workers not to break the rules and give bosses LEGITIMATE reasons to punish them).

          I know that OMG will ignore facts, but I am presenting them so that others will not be misled by his trolling.

    • whodatbob says:

      B.S. Unions stood up to the corporate bullies, after years of negotiating were able to gain a small share of the pie. Both labor and management were happy until our economy went in the tank. Management unable to explain loss of profits needed a scapegoat — it is the unions fault. Labor hating Republicans gladly took up the cry. Many unions negotiated cuts in pay, benefits, etc. Mismanagement by corporate heads caused most failures, but labor was blamed.

    • metrognome3830 says:

      Brilliant reply, highpckts! If you were ever a member of a union I would be greatly surprised. If, by some chance, you were, I will tell you right now that you are as complicit as the corporations and businesses for the decline of union membership. You sound like the kind of guy who sided with the bosses in hopes of getting a better deal for yourself and everyone else could go to hell!

      • ObozoMustGo says:

        Metro… now, now…. when you make a statement like “You sound like the kind of guy who sided with the bosses in hopes of getting a better deal for yourself and everyone else could go to hell!” it sounds as if you begrudge a guy from getting a better deal for his family. It also sounds like you expect a guy to set aside his family’s interests for so-called good of the collective. Of all the times we have been chatting, Metro, and with all do respect, I am shocked that you would advocate a worker set aside his own interests and his family’s interests. That’s sheer stupidity. And the truth is that highpckts is 100% correct. The unions, if they want to survive like any other organization, MUST learn to change with the times. They have done NOTHING but attempt to hold back the clock and maintain the status quo of a long gone era. This is why they are dying. Too many choices for employers to go elsewhere. Too many opportunities for companies to use robots. What do you propose, the masterminds in government that your union dues bribe every election should now be telling companies where they can and cannot locate? Or that they cannot use too many robats Oh…. wait….. didn’t Obozo just try that to Boeing? YES HE DID!

        • metrognome3830 says:

          Sorry, OMG, but you and highpckts are full of BS on this subject. Neither of you have any firsthand knowledge of unions or what they stood for and you are gloating over the hoped-for demise of all unions. But sadly for you, OMG, and for your small little cadre of saintly, hard-working small businesses are suffering at the hands of the same people as the unions. The BIG businesses. It’s always interesting to note that these big corporate types love to brag about how they have brought down the unions. But when it comes to finding a scapegoat for their alleged misfortunes and/or political setbacks it’s always the fault of “Big Labor.” They can’t have it both ways, OMG, and still have any credibility. Well, actually, they don’t have much credibility now.
          Unions weren’t responsible for seeing that you or anyone else had a job, either. They were responsible for seeing that when you got that job, you were paid a wage commensurate with what other people doing the same job were paid and they were responsible for seeing that you got fair treatment on that job. The whining of the anti-union crowd is losing it’s appeal. People like highpckts can damn well thank the unions that he or she has the benefits and the pay that he or she gets today. With the demise of the apprenticeship programs, many of the unions also undertook the training of new people, so that they might work their way up to higher paying jobs. I am on the sidelines now, but I am encouraged to see some resurgence in unionism. Not much, just some. Unfortunately for some unenlightened employers, when the downgrading of unions came about, didn’t know when to stop. I believe they will pay the price for that. Inept business management paid a much bigger role in the decline of some businesses that any union did. Sorry OMG, that’s the way I see it and I won’t be bullied into thinking otherwise. You can question my intelligence, my business acumen, whatever, it won’t sway me. I am a failed businessman myself, but I never blamed anyone but myself for that. I simply went into business not adequately funded to ride out the rough going at the start. My miscalculation, no one else’s. Certainly not my employees. They were hard-working and they did their jobs well. I did not. And any honest businessman who fell on hard times, would have to take the major share of the blame. It’s a lame excuse to blame a union contract for their failure. Many unions bent over backwards to help a struggling employer and they failed anyway.
          Have a great day, OMG!
          I sincerely hope you have a successful career and never have to rely on a union. I’m afraid the shock would be just too great for you to bear.

          • Sand_Cat says:

            You mean they’re not full of BS on EVERY subject?

          • ObozoMustGo says:

            Metro… I think you’re clinging to a legend of unions from a day gone by long ago. Sort of like romanticizing the past. It has no basis in reality today. While I agree with you that the business owners and managers have more to do with success or not, I will also acknowledge that those same managers and owners absolutely make business decisions based on cost of labor and contracts. And union contracts are far more expensive than non union contracts. But even this discussion is moot in today’s world. Technological advances and globalization of markets are the real drivers behind union decline in America. And there is NOTHING that any of us can do about it. NOTHING!!! No laws can be made that will reverse this tide. Just like the Milton quote I gave you, Metro, that makes so much sense. By your thinking, you would romanticize farming and lament how many farmers were out of work without ever perceiving the economic benefit that has come from fewer people farming and more people doing other things. The same principle applies to technological advances and growing global economies. Unions, by their nature, are not compatible with these 2 forces of change.

            BTW… a few points to note:

            – I don’t have any problem with private unions in private business arrangements. People want to unionize, go for it.

            – By the same token, compulsory unionization which forces an employee to join and pay dues should be illegal everywhere. RTW should be the norm across the entire country.

            – There is a difference between private and public unions. Public unions should be immediately terminated and disbanded for the corrupt money laundering schemes they are.

            Have a nice day, Metro! Send my regards to Mrs. Metro please.

            “The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.” –
            Milton Friedman

          • metrognome3830 says:

            OMG, you are very quick to accuse me of romanticizing the past. You are equally guilty of championing the present. Neither of us really anywhere entirely correct. You know damn well what I meant by my comment to highpckts. If you don’t, I’m not going to explain it to you again. Your reply only illustrates your biased opinion of what unions did and do. Unions have changed as time have changed and they will change again as necessary. Highpckts describes a situation where — in his view — the union was intransigent and allegedly would not negotiate, so the owner closed up shop and moved his operation to another state. #1, we only have highpckts version of the story, which is decidedly not pro-union. #2. What a bunch of bull! If the owner could not afford to make an offer to the union, how is it he could afford to close up shop and move his operation to another state? Don’t bother, let me tell you how. Because another state and city offered him a better deal, i.e., free land, tax breaks and free roads and utilities. Of course he is going to move. It happens all the time. And much to the dismay of some of these cities, the owner will up and move again after a few years when another city offers him an even better deal. Public unions: We have a perfect example of the money laundering that goes on right here in good ‘ol Phoenix and other towns. The public retirement systems. But guess who is gouging the system? The city managers and upper level department heads, police chiefs and deputies. That’s where we have people retiring on six-figure incomes. Sometimes drawing their pensions while retiring and moving on to an even higher-paid job elsewhere. Even as we speak, the city of Phoenix faces a situation where the city manager, who took advantage of being able to add in unused vacation time and sick leave, etc. to his already large salary (ca. 250,000 per annum) to increase his pension well into six figures. And then he retired here and moved on to another city where he will receive over 300,000 per year in salary and by the time he retires for good, he will retire on somewhere around half a million a year. Now your average parks dept. employee just isn’t going to do that well salary-wise nor retirement-wise. Phoenix, now that the horse is out of the barn is planning to put a stop to such shenanigans. Unfortunately, the city manager isn’t the only horse to have left the barn. There is a list of other (all upper-level managers) who are going to hit retirement with very nice six-figure incomes. They also collect all the bonuses handed out, which they are also allowed to add to their total income, which increases their pension. So your solution is to outlaw public unions? They aren’t grabbing all the pension funds, the big wheels in the front office are.
            There is only one good reason for RTW states, OMG. And if you check them out, that reason is because it’s much easier to keep pay levels low. That’s it. However, the RTW promoters, such as the Koch Brothers and their ALEC organization are quite clever. Or the people who fall for their rhetoric are a bit thick. They tell people about the union thugs, being forced to work in union shops and how they are independent and don’t need any union to help them keep their jobs. They tell them how union guys are lazy and incompetent. Ah, yes, OMG, it’s nothing new. It has been going on since the day after the first union was organized. And it gains traction for a few years until a few more people wise up. It’s nothing new, OMG. It was all tried by the John Birch Society a few decades ago. Hey, guess who was a founder of the John Birch Society.
            Have a nice day, OMG! Watch for the demise of the Tea Party!
            “Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you do these things. . . . Their number is negligible and they are stupid. — Dwight David Eisenhower (in a letter to his brother).

          • ObozoMustGo says:

            Hey Metro! I just wanted to say hello. Long time no chat. I hope you and Mrs. Metro are doing well.

          • metrognome3830 says:

            Hi, OMG!
            I haven’t been posting for awhile. I was having trouble with the website — locking up my computer due to a “long running script.” I don’t know if it’s corrected, so I will give it a try.
            Mrs. Metro and I are doing quite well, thank you. I hope you and Mrs. OMG are doing well also. And all the young OMGs.

          • ObozoMustGo says:

            Great to hear from you, Metro. Everyone is doing well on my end.

            There was that time when The Memo was having issues with IE. I use both IE and Chrome and it worked well on Chrome. Seems like they solved the problems. Probably had Team Obozo managing the web site… hehehehehehe ….. I do know The Memo gets their marching orders on daily and weekly narrative from Team Obozo. This site is nothing but a mouthpiece for Team Obozo. It’s certainly not a site for real journalists, that’s for sure. They give yellow journalism a good name around here.

            Have a great weekend, Metro!

            “Government is the great fiction, through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else.” — Frederic Bastiat, French economist (1801-1850)

      • highpckts says:

        Nope! Never had the “honor”! My father had to deal with unions and the unions were unbending and refused to negotiate most of the time! Much like the GOP! Well the company, small company, ended moving it’s home office to another State! So much for negotiation!

      • highpckts says:

        So for all their unbending and refusing to negotiate, they ended up losing their jobs when the company moved out of state!

    • dtgraham says:

      German law says that union representatives must be on every corporation’s board. The Germans, Dutch, Austrians, and Scandinavians have very high levels of unionization—as much as an 80% rate. You’ll have to explain why these countries have some of the highest levels of per capita income in the world.

      While you’re at it…explain how Germany could, at the height of the recession, manufacture 2.5 times as many vehicles as the U.S. with a population of 82 million, given that the average German auto worker’s hourly wage and benefit package amounted to $67.00 per hour compared to the American $30 something per hour (can’t remember the exact figure).

      • John Pigg says:

        I still remain pro-Union. But one reason why Germany is so successful is because they manufacture high end vehicles. The French automotive industry cannot compete with foreign cheaper models and a great deal of that is probably due competition from companies who rely on cheap labor.

        When you manufacture high end products, you can afford to be more generous with your benefits.

        • dtgraham says:

          You’ll always have a niche market for high end vehicles but I’m not sure if that’s enough to bring about that kind of result. You did say that it was only one reason for their success, but if it were that important then Maserati, Lamborghini, and Ferrari would put the Italians alongside the Japanese, Koreans, and Germans for overall car sales and that certainly isn’t true.

          These countries also sell a lot of Volkswagen Beetles, Kia Rios, and lower end Toyotas into low wage countries and actually run trade surpluses with some of those countries despite having a much higher wage structure, so they’re doing it somehow.

          I was just trying to point out to highpckts that labor unions couldn’t be the devil incarnate and the cause of all that’s wrong in the world or I wouldn’t be seeing what I’m seeing.

          • John Pigg says:

            So their line workers for their lower end car companies have the same union benefits. Wow, not sure how they do it but that impressive.

            The only reason I made that point is that my brother in law is french and he hates the EU because he believes that the French car manufacturers cannot compete with cheaper models. So he thinks the EU is only advantageous to economies that manufacture a great deal of high end products.

            You seem to know a great deal about Germany, what are your thoughts related to the EU and economic integration.

          • dtgraham says:

            I don’t know if the benefits for the lower end manufacturers are exactly the same but they’re all union workers, from Porsche to BMW to Daimler to VW to Opel. Japan has 12 auto worker unions and South Korea also has a highly unionized labour force with Kia and Hyundai being union shops.

            When the Japanese and Germans first started to manufacture in America, they headed south and did so without labour unions; something that wouldn’t have happened at home or in certain other parts of the world. Yet, I fail to see how this has hurt their vehicle manufacturing and exports from the home country. So when I hear from the right that unions are solely responsible for Detroit’s demise, I’d like further clarification on why that’s so, given the success of S.Korea, Japan, and Germany.

            I would agree that the Euro zone is advantageous to countries that manufacture high end products. Although it’s come at a cost since the Euro zone crisis, it’s widely known that the Euro has boosted German exports within the zone due to everyone using the same valued currency. If the Greeks had to pay for German imports with their own national Drachma, the exchange rate against the Deutsch Mark would make German chemicals, machinery and cars one heck of a lot more expensive.

            I’ve used the Germans as an example in a handful of my posts because they seem to be the perfect foil as a counter argument against the right’s claim that government and unions will destroy an economy. There are other examples.

            Scandinavia is doing almost everything that, according to the conservative textbooks, – will lead to poor growth and reduced competitiveness: taxes are high, social services generous, the public sector is large and employment protection is strong. So the textbooks appear to be wrong again. I know you can’t just take one template and apply it everywhere due to various cultural, demographic, and other differences, but the Scandinavian and German experiences, amongst others, are difficult for present day North American conservatives to explain away. The “Celtic Tiger” is a hard one for them to deal with too, albeit in a completely different way.

            I don’t really know that much about Germany. I taught myself German for the lamest of reasons and ordered Deutsche Welle in my cable package to help with listening comprehension. They’re like the German BBC. There are a lot of economic and political shows dealing with the EU on their network so I picked up a few things about Europe, but I’m hardly any expert on the topic. That’s for sure. You, no doubt, know more due to family connections if nothing else.

            EU integration? You read as many positive forecasts as negative about that. I do have some grave concerns though. It just seems to me that the EU was originally built on voluntary integration, solidarity, perception of a common future and political handling of diversity. The new EU after the Eurozone crisis appears to be turning more toward being centred around punitive rules based on some explicit or implicit template out of Berlin. Political handling of diversity is being replaced by a straightjacket. If voters can’t vote on their own countries national budgets, what are they voting for?

            When you have younger generation employment prospects so poor in some of the southern EU countries and you combine that with the perceived loss of sovereignty—-it provides energy to extreme political movements and fuels their ideas. We’re beginning to see that.

            Still, countries like Turkey and the Balkan states are clamouring to get in. I think Turkey would be a good addition but I understand that’s largely a xenophobic thing in Europe due to religious differences.

          • dtgraham says:

            I’m posting this later. Incidentally, I didn’t mean to slag your political beliefs John. I was really only referring to the more radical, misinformed elements of the American right and elsewhere too. I’m pretty sure that you personally would be a good fit within any of the mainstream Canadian, Aussie or European Conservative Parties, although your minimum wage thing would be problematic in Canada to say the least. Oh well. What did Reagan say? If you agree me on 80% of things…..

          • John Pigg says:

            I live in the Midwest, I completely support our regional unions 100%. As far as Min Wag goes, due to my background and childhood I believe very strongly that Min Wage is now hurting who its meant to help. But I have my quirks.

            As always I enjoy your comments. You seem to know a great deal about the Euro zone.

          • dtgraham says:

            Good chatting with you. You always have interesting, challenging things to consider. Take care John.

  2. ObozoMustGo says:

    How does The Memo do it? A seemingly endless line of useful idiots posing as journalists when in reality they’re just another arm of Obozo’s propaganda machine. And Richard Kirsch is just another useful idiot du jour to place upon the pile of shame at The Memo that gives yellow journalism a a good name. Witness:

    The very first sentence states: “New technology is keeping more and more workers stuck in low-wage jobs, and it’s society’s responsibility to make sure those jobs still have dignity and fair wages.”

    This sentence tells one all they need to know about the rest of the wasted pixels from Mr. Kirsch’s keyboard. First off, I personally have no responsibility to make sure anyone but ME has a job that I can do. Secondly, jobs DO NOT COME from society. They come from entreprenuers and those with risk capital seeking to start a new market or do something different or better than others. They don’t start companies so they can give you a job. They do it to make money. And it is the freedom for them to make money from risk taking that results in the upward spiral of employment and the economy. It does NOT work any other way. To suggest that it does, or that there is a “collective” responsibility is nothing short of staggeringly ignorant!!!

    Have a nice day!

    “When the United States was formed in 1776, it took 19 people on the farm to produce enough food for 20 people. So most of the people had to spend their time and efforts on growing food. Today, it’s down to 1% or 2% to produce that food. Now just consider the vast amount of supposed unemployment that was produced by that. But there wasn’t really any unemployment produced. What happened was that people who had formerly been tied up working in agriculture were freed by technological developments and improvements to do something else. That enabled us to have a better standard of living and a more extensive range of products.” – Milton Friedman

    • dtgraham says:

      “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labour laws, labour unions and farm programs…you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are a few Texas millionaires, and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.” ~ Dwight Eisenhower writing to his brother in 1954.

      That splinter group is now in control of Ike’s party Obozo.

      • Allan Richardson says:

        Republicans are what the Southern Democrats were in Ike’s day, and Democrats are what the Northern Democrats used to be — in favor of the highest good for ALL people in America, regardless of race, religion, national heritage, shape of skin (Pat Paulsen’s humorous term for gender), or other accidental attribute. Also for labor to get a fair share of what they work to produce; CEO’s are not “makers,” they couldn’t build a product to save their lives (unless they worked their way up, which few have done these days). WORKERS are the “makers.”

      • John Pigg says:

        You by chance haven’t read Rule and Ruin?

        • dtgraham says:

          I had never heard of it but just the review was interesting. They’re acting like an arrogant majority government in a Parliamentary system that doesn’t care about public opinion. You can’t make that–or government itself–work in the American system unless you control all 3 branches and use reconciliation generously in the Senate, in the absence of 60 votes.

          This is a new paradigm in American politics and I don’t know what the end game is. I don’t think they’re likely to back off because they feel that they’ve got the House sewn up until the end of this decade. The era of bipartisan bargaining and compromise seems to be over for now, but what replaces it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.