US law firm Littler Mendelson and Washington lobbyists Prime Policy Group have launched an “employer-focused” group aimed at developing policy responses to the technology-induced displacement of employees, which it calls ‘TIDE,’ and concerns about protections for gig workers. Michael Lotito, who co-chairs Littler’s workplace policy institute, told Bloomberg Law that the gig economy drew comparisons with the 1930s when policymakers started to think about the kind of rules needed to govern a newly emerging workplace. Mr Lotito said, ‘We believe that we have to bring together not only companies but also government and other interested parties in order to figure this out.’
Automation in the workplace
The coalition comes as the Trump administration and lawmakers in Congress are examining how automation and artificial intelligence may replace workers in the workplace. As many as 375 million workers worldwide may need to change careers in the next 12 years due to automation, according to the McKinsey Global Institute. The firms said employers should 'take it upon themselves to work together to put themselves and their workers in the best possible position to prepare for the TIDE, adapting and adjusting to the sweeping changes that emerging technologies promise to bring.'
The US Department of Labor (DOL) in the two years under President Trump has focused largely on apprenticeships as a way to give workers the skills that employers need today. Littler and Prime last year urged the DOL to join with other agencies to develop a strategic plan to train workers in automated systems and prepare for technology-based layoffs. The firms also issued a recent report raising concerns expressed by a wide array of research, advocacy, corporate, labour, and government groups about training workers for the new and different jobs that may be coming soon. The firms reference some of the potential policy responses to changes in the workplace, including a new legal classification for gig workers and universal basic income. But the report is largely intended to jump-start a conversation they say already is shifting policy in China, Japan, Germany, and other countries.