Tech and labor trade create dilemma for California’s economy – Orange County Register

By 2048, artificial intelligence will replace many white-collar jobs, eliminating some and partially automating others. (Illustration by Jeff Goertzen, The Orange County Register/SCNG)

When Hollywood writers initially went on strike against film and television studios, it was for traditional reasons such as wages and working conditions.

Ultimately, however, the more pressing issue is how much studios can use artificial intelligence to develop scripts, thereby reducing the need for input from humans and their skills.

It was an important conflict in a larger conflict over whether technology and corporate consolidation were making the economy more productive and globally competitive or creating more unemployed workers.

Opposing technology and other labor-saving corporate moves to protect jobs has become a key goal of unions in contract bargaining and the political arena, as the writers’ strike demonstrated. And California, not surprisingly, is on the front lines.

Last year, for example, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the Legislature agreed to spend more money to improve efficiency at the state’s ports, hoping to improve their competitive position relative to other ports. But at the behest of longshore unions, the law specifically banned spending on „fully automated cargo handling equipment.”

One of the California Labor Federation’s highest priority bills in the 2023 legislative session is Assembly Bill 316, which aims to ban the use of autonomous, driverless trucks by 2030.

„Autonomous vehicle technology is evolving and the DMV is committed to keeping our rules up to date to reflect its continued growth in California,” Newsome said in his veto message.

AB 316 is not an outlier. Several other high-priority bills for workers aimed to block technology, consolidation, and other labor-saving moves by employers.

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Assembly Bill 647 would make it more difficult for grocery chains to cut workers when they merge, while Assembly Bill 627 would set seniority criteria for hiring workers after layoffs.

Other measures, meanwhile, improved employment by providing workers with new benefits or wage increases.

Legislation passed last year to create a new state agency to oversee wages and working conditions in the fast-food industry was challenged by an industry-backed referendum that qualified for the 2024 referendum. This led to a compromise that set a minimum wage of $20 an hour for fast food workers.

There was similar dust-up over legislation setting a $25-an-hour minimum wage for health care workers, which led to another compromise.

Another measure, Senate Bill 616, expands the mandatory sick leave minimum from three workdays to five days.

The overall thrust of these legislative actions is to make it more difficult for employers to make labor-saving changes while raising the costs of using human labor.

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