Union workers more likely to resist new technology

Paul Kersey

Labor law expert, occasional smart-aleck, defender of the free society.

Paul Kersey
/ Labor
August 1, 2013

Union workers more likely to resist new technology

  Not all workers view technological innovation the same way. Earlier this week, the Tech Crunch blog, which covers trends in information technology businesses, examined how different types of workers view technological innovation. New technology has always had the ability to upend the workplace, and tech workers themselves are not immune. But tech workers are much more...

 

Not all workers view technological innovation the same way.

Earlier this week, the Tech Crunch blog, which covers trends in information technology businesses, examined how different types of workers view technological innovation. New technology has always had the ability to upend the workplace, and tech workers themselves are not immune. But tech workers are much more willing to adapt to new technology. See the related note here.

Unionized workers are more likely to resist new technology.

Tech Crunch Correspondent Gregory Ferenstein finds that unions have historically been as likely to resist technology as they are to adopt it. They have been far more likely to take the halfhearted position of allowing new technology to be used, but only if it is done in such a way that its impact on workers is minimized.

Ferenstein’s own poll on the subject shows that if there’s a technology that is likely to disrupt union workers’ jobs, they tend to want to block the technology. But tech workers are more willing to sacrifice their jobs. Ferenstein concludes that, “Many technology workers hold a genuine philosophical belief that the benefits to innovation outweigh the short-term gain of protecting workers.”

Union aversion to technology can reach absurd levels. For example, union contracts with the water department in the bankrupt city of Detroit still provide for the city to hire a horseshoer – even in Detroit, resistance to the newfangled automobile was fierce in one quarter. Closer to home, fear of technology led the Illinois Education Association to support a moratorium on charter schools that use virtual learning technology. Virtual learning technology provides new ways for students to access a broader range of courses and take lessons from the best teachers; but it also has the potential to affect teachers’ jobs.

What this resistance really boils down to is a fundamental difference in how one looks at change: unions are prone to see new technology as a threat – something that unscrupulous employers can take advantage of to negatively affect workers. But the more enlightened view – think how many jobs were created by the auto industry over the long run – is to see technology as creating new opportunities, which includes new jobs that creative workers can fill.

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