Sen. Bob Casey Wants to Take on Robot Bosses and AI in the Workplace

FILE - U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., speaks before President Joe Biden about his infrastructure agenda while announcing funding to upgrade Philadelphia's water facilities and replace lead pipes, Feb. 3, 2023, at Belmont Water Treatment Center in Philadelphia. Casey's campaign said Wednesday, July 5, that he raised over $4 million in the last three months, his best fundraising quarter ever as he awaits a Republican challenger to his re-election bid in the critical battleground state of Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

By Sean Kitchen

July 25, 2023

With artificial intelligence creeping into everyday life, Sen. Bob Casey wants to protect workers from AI in hiring and firing decisions. Research shows that artificial intelligence can lead to forms of discrimination if left unchecked.

Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) wants to protect workers from artificial intelligence when it comes to making decisions in the hiring and firing processes. Casey, along with Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), introduced the No Robot Bosses Act in response to these practices last week. 

“Right now, there is nothing stopping a corporation from using artificial intelligence to hire, manage, or even fire workers without the involvement of a human being,” Senator Casey said. “As robot bosses become more prevalent in the workplace, we have an obligation to protect working families from the dangers of employers misusing and abusing these novel technologies.”

The No Robot Bosses Act would prohibit employers from relying exclusively on an automated system making employment-related decisions, require testing and validation of automated systems for issues of discrimination and biases before they are used, and mandate employers to provide oversight of automated systems before using those systems to aid in employment-related decisions. 

The legislation is part of a larger effort by Casey and other Democratic Senators to curb artificial intelligence from making employment decisions and opening the door to potential discrimination issues in the workplace. 

Earlier this year, Casey and Schatz introduced the Stop Spying Bosses Act, which would protect workers from exploitative surveillance technologies that could collect data on employees and interfere with union organizing efforts. It would also create a new Privacy and Technology Division in the Department of Labor that would enforce and regulate workplace surveillance from emerging technologies. 

“American workers are the backbone of our country, and they deserve to be treated with basic dignity at work. The Stop Spying Bosses Act is a first step to level the playing field for workers by holding their bosses accountable for using invasive technology against them,” Casey said in a statement at the time.

Companies such as Amazon have come under scrutiny for using artificial intelligence to track worker productivity, which could then be used to fire employees who are not producing as much. 

A 2021 report by Bloomberg highlights how Amazon uses AI to track their employees. The report looks into Amazon’s Flex driver system, which pays contractors to deliver products and groceries on the same day. More than a dozen drivers and four former employees who were fired by the company’s algorithm were interviewed for the story. 

One employee who was terminated by the company’s computer system was Ryan Cope, who was a Flex driver in the Denver, Co. area. Cope explained how Amazon Flex expected packages to be delivered in a two-hour time frame during harsh weather conditions. 

“Whenever there’s an issue, there’s no support. It’s you against the machine so you don’t even try,” he told Bloomberg.

As reported by NPR, Charlotte Burrows, the Chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, testified at a Senate hearing in January and stated that 83% of employers use some form of artificial intelligence in their hiring process. 

This can lead to different forms of discrimination. 

The NPR story stated that resume scanners prioritize keywords and video programs can evaluate a candidate’s facial expressions or speech patterns in video interviews, which can lead to bias or discrimination. A person with a speech impediment can score lower during a job interview and a program can automatically screen them out. 

“Today, algorithms and automated decision systems have vast implications for employment decisions, worker rights, and safety in the workplace. Without oversight and safeguards, these “robot bosses” increase the risks of discrimination, unfair disciplinary actions, and dangerous working conditions,” a summary of the No Robot Bosses Act stated

“It’s time we protect working families from the dangers of employers misusing and abusing these technologies.”

 

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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