Featured Article

US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh on automation and unionization

The face of work is quickly changing

Comment

Washington, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser talks with Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh as they tour the construction site atop the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge on May 19, 2021 in Washington, DC
Image Credits: Drew Angerer / Getty Images

It’s easy to fall prey to panic around automation. It’s also just just as easy to dismiss it outright. As ever, the truth almost certainly lies somewhere between these two extremes — though precisely where has yet to be determined. Both companies and regulatory bodies will play an important role in determining automation’s impact on the future workforce.

As someone who frequently speaks with technologists, roboticists and the VCs who invest in them, I think we have the tendency to brush past some of these broader concerns, in favor of embracing the notion of a future in which automation has either created a new class of better and higher-paying jobs, or simply removed the necessity for work altogether.

In my experience, the truly utopian outcome is never the correct one. Life is more subtle, the future more nuanced and, more often than not, bad things tend to disproportionately impact those in society with the least means to defend themselves. It’s a topic we knew would be core to a number of the conversations we’re having at today’s TC Sessions: Robotics event, so we decided to kick things with someone who can offer about as much insight into the subject as anyone at the moment.

U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh was a slam dunk for the event. In addition to having a background as a union organizer, he’s a Boston native, who served as the city’s mayor for six years before being tapped by Joe Biden for a cabinet position in March 2021.

Walsh’s take on automation is pragmatic, noting, “I’ve been in politics for 25 years, and for 25 years, we’ve been talking about automation replacing people.”

He adds, “We were forward-looking in the city of Boston. Innovation does bring different kinds of jobs. How do we make sure people are skilled and trained up to actually be able to access those jobs. If you don’t do that, then obviously it’s going to have an impact on people.”

This gets to an important and nuanced point in the automation conversation. While there’s consensus among many that — in the long run — technology will continue to create more and better jobs, what happens to blue-collar workers in the short term? How can we support and, perhaps, train them to be better prepared for the future? And who, ultimately, does that responsibility fall on?

“Government needs to look at the way we invest in workforce development and make sure we put the money into good training programs, community college programs, Job Corps centers and places like that,” he says.

Walsh adds that the companies doing the automating ought to also shoulder some of that responsibility.

“I think companies need to invest more in their workforces and potential workforces,” he says. “This is their opportunity to create a workforce that works for them. This publc-private partnership is important, but I think companies are going to start investing more in human capital, because what they want is that loyalty to the company.”

Walsh has spent much of his time as secretary on the road, visiting manufacturing sites and talking up Biden’s economic policies. Those travels have brought him to a number of plants, warehouses and logistics facilities for companies like GM and UPS, where the workforce is often evenly split between human and robotics workers. He adds quickly that he’d like to visit an Amazon facility but has not yet had the opportunity.

Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh tours Lehigh Heavy Forge while visiting area businesses to discuss the American Jobs Plan in Bethlehem, Pa., on Wednesday, June 2, 2021
UNITED STATES – JUNE 2: Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh tours Lehigh Heavy Forge while visiting area businesses to discuss the American Jobs Plan in Bethlehem, Pa., on Wednesday, June 2, 2021. Rep. Susan Wild, D-Pa., also attended the tour. Image Credits: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

He has however, set up meetings with unions, as workplaces across the country embrace a new push for labor organizing. In May, Walsh and Vice President Kamala Harris met with organizers from Amazon, Starbucks and REI. The Secretary pushes back on corporations’ tendencies to take an antagonistic approach to unionizing.

“Whether it’s Starbucks, REI or Amazon, they organized for a reason,” says Walsh. “They organized because they felt they were being underappreciated, underpaid, they felt the workplace was unsafe — whatever reason. Let’s say they settle on a contract — that’s where the relationship should really start thinking about a joint partnership and how you advance the company forward. How do you make sure the company is successful? What the labor movement has to do a little better job of doing selling to — not just the members that represent the members — but to the leadership of the company, that we’re not in here to slow you down and put you out of business, we’re in here to make you successful.”

More TechCrunch

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

2 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

2 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo