The Invisible Web of Work: The Intertwining of A-I, Electronic Surveillance, and Labor Law

Source: Richard A. Bales, Katherine V.W. Stone, UCLA School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 19-18, Last revised: June 30, 2019

From the abstract:
Employers and others who hire or engage workers to perform services use a dizzying array of electronic mechanisms to make personnel decisions about hiring, worker evaluation, compensation, discipline, and retention. These electronic mechanisms include electronic trackers, surveillance cameras, metabolism monitors, wearable biological measuring devices, and implantable technology. These tools enable employers to record their workers’ every movement, listen in on their conversations, measure minute aspects of performance, and detect oppositional organizing activities. The data collected is transformed by means of artificial intelligence (A-I) algorithms into a permanent electronic resume that can identify and predict an individual’s performance as well as their work ethic, personality, union proclivity, employer loyalty, and future health care costs. The electronic resume produced by A-I will accompany workers from job to job as they move around the boundaryless workplace. Thus A-I and electronic monitoring produce an invisible electronic web that threatens to invade worker privacy, deter unionization, enable subtle forms of employer blackballing, exacerbate employment discrimination, render unions ineffective, and obliterate the protections of the labor laws.

This article describes the many ways A-I is being used in the workplace and how its use is transforming the practices of hiring, evaluating, compensating, controlling, and dismissing workers. It then focuses on four areas of law in which A-I threatens to undermine worker protections: anti-discrimination law, privacy law, antitrust law, and labor law. Finally, this article maps out an agenda for future law reform and research.