AFT Resolution


WHEREAS, the public sector is facing a digitized future where public data and employees’ work products are subject to an increased use of algorithms and digitalization, as well as a transition to artificial intelligence and machine learning without regard for human oversight and union voice in the development of these products; this trend is affecting many sectors of the workforce, including education—pre-K through higher education—healthcare, infrastructure, and every level of government service; and

WHEREAS, when regulated, digital advances can benefit workers, improve public services, break down barriers to access and build democratic power; and

WHEREAS, these innovations also bring fundamental ethical concerns, and many unforeseen challenges, including the possibility of increased gender and ethnic bias, high costs, significant threats to privacy, dangers of mass surveillance, and concern over transparency and accountability; and

WHEREAS, few governments have successfully developed policies or institutions to ensure data can be protected and utilized for public good; many private companies now hold monopolies on the data governments need to operate critical public services; and governments are handing over the rights to this data directly to companies without an understanding of its value; and

WHEREAS, data protection is a critical issue; we, as citizens, often lack the ability to access or control our personal data collected by technology; Artificial intelligence in the digital realm can be very invasive, and even infringe on basic rights and freedoms; AI can increase risks of misinformation, disinformation and widening society’s divisions; and

WHEREAS, digitalization’s negative impacts exacerbate an already divided and inequitable world; these anti-democratic tendencies include accentuating differences in class and income, ethnicity, custom, religion, gender, generations and geography:

RESOLVED, the American Federation of Teachers will support enforceable governmental regulations that increase individuals’ protection by allowing transparency, agency and control over citizens’ personal data; and

RESOLVED, the AFT will provide union education and advocacy on AI issues in the workplace and, at the bargaining table, research and collect contract bargaining language that will support our desire to protect members’ personal data and ensure that the data of the communities we represent is safeguarded as a public good; and

RESOLVED, the AFT will advocate for the development of an AI environment where the ultimate responsibility and accountability lies with humans, not with the technology itself; to further this discussion among our affiliates and members, we will promote the groundbreaking global agreement from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) entitled, “The Ethics of Artificial Intelligence”; and

RESOLVED, workers, their unions and the international labor community must have a seat at the table to ensure that the benefits and responsibilities of a digital society—AI grounded in ethical values, principles and human rights—are considered; this will include a review of costs, equity, efficiency, inclusiveness and accountability; workers and their unions must be empowered along each step—algorithm design, procurement, training, implementations and assessment—to benefit from the new workforce opportunities and professional development these changing technologies will offer.

(July 17, 2022)