Microsoft seeks to ward off potential union action over AI job risks

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the Axel Springer award at Axel Springer Neubau on October 17, 2023 in Berlin, Germany
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Microsoft has announced a partnership with a major US union federation in a bid to “create an open dialogue” on the topic of artificial intelligence (AI). 

The move will see the tech giant collaborate with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) to examine the potential impact of AI on the American workforce.

The AFL-CIO group is the largest labor organization in the US, representing around 60 individual unions and over 12 million workers nationally.

Microsoft said the partnership is the “first of its kind between a labor organization and technology company” focused specifically on AI.

The collaboration will enable unions to voice their concerns on AI-related workforce issues and help steer the development and implementation of the technology across a raft of industries.

“By working directly with labor leaders, we can help ensure that AI serves the country’s workers,” said Brad Smith, vice chair and president of Microsoft.

“This groundbreaking partnership honors the rights of workers, learns from the advice of labor leaders as we develop technology, and helps us provide people with the skills that will become essential in a new AI era.”

The partnership with the AFL-CIO will focus on three specific areas, Microsoft said.

This includes sharing “in-depth information with labor leaders and workers on AI technology trends” and improving efforts to incorporate worker perspectives on the future development of AI technology.

In addition, Microsoft said the deal will help “shape public policy” that supports the technology skills and needs of frontline workers potentially impacted by the implementation of AI.


Red whitepaper cover with title and logo above circular images of colleagues using laptops, and servers

(Image credit: Trend Micro)

Get tips on how to protect your business from potential attacks


AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler said the partnership reflects a recognition of the critical role workers can play in the development and regulation of AI.

“The labor movement looks forward to partnering with Microsoft to expand workers’ role in the creation of worker-centered design, workforce training and trustworthy AI practices,” she said.

“Microsoft’s neutrality framework and embrace of workers’ expertise signals that this new era of AI can also catalyze a new era of productive labor-management partnerships.”

The move from Microsoft comes amid a period of growing concern over the potential impact of generative AI technologies on the global workforce. 

Research from Goldman Sachs in early 2023 warned that the emergence of generative AI tools could result in more than 300 million jobs being automated globally by 2030, prompting concerns of mass layoffs as firms ramp up investment in the technology.

These fears appeared to be taking shape in mid-2023 with a slew of job cut announcements at major firms on both sides of the Atlantic.

In May, IBM chief executive Arvind Krishna revealed the company plans to lay off thousands of workers in a bid to automate roles spanning its human resources and sales departments.

UK-based telecoms giant, BT, also announced mass layoffs in May, confirming that around 55,000 roles are set to be slashed by 2030. Reports at the time suggested around 10,000 of these could be directly replaced by AI.

Recent polling by the AFL-CIO revealed that 70% of workers “worry about being replaced by AI”, which the labor organization said underlines the need for dialogue between big tech and the US workforce on the topic.

“To improve work while creating richer possibilities for our lives on the whole, the transition to an AI-assisted future must center workers’ voices,” Microsoft said in a statement.

“That’s why Microsoft and the AFL-CIO have created this labor-tech partnership — to ensure workers have a voice in the process and that their needs are understood.”

Ross Kelly
News and Analysis Editor

Ross Kelly is ITPro's News & Analysis Editor, responsible for leading the brand's news output and in-depth reporting on the latest stories from across the business technology landscape. Ross was previously a Staff Writer, during which time he developed a keen interest in cyber security, business leadership, and emerging technologies.

He graduated from Edinburgh Napier University in 2016 with a BA (Hons) in Journalism, and joined ITPro in 2022 after four years working in technology conference research.

For news pitches, you can contact Ross at, or on Twitter and LinkedIn.