At the 2018 WCRI Annual Research & Issues Conference a panel discussed how the world of work is changing. The panel included:
- Judge David Langham, Florida Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims
- Steven Tolman, President Massachusetts AFL-CIO
- Denise Zoe Algire, Albertsons Companies
- Charlie Kingdollar, Gen Re
- John Ruser, WCRI (moderator)
Question: What do you think the impact of automation will be on workers in the workplace?
With less workers available in the workforce in the future, some level of automation is essential to create efficiencies and streamline work. Without automation we will not be able to perform all the necessary tasks because of worker shortages. Automation can also perform the more dangerous and labor intensive tasks.
Automation is not only replacing blue collar jobs but also white collar. Truck driver is the #1 job in 29 states and automation could replace them eventually. One study shows that for every 16 jobs at most, 1 job will be created and that will be a high skill job that those displaced workers cannot perform.
What happens to the workers displaced by automation? Will employers be required to invest the savings into job retraining programs for those workers? There is a societal cost to automation that must be considered.
We will likely see decades of low earning displaced workers suffering because of automation. This happened in the past when there were significant shifts in our economy. From a regulatory basis, it is very challenging for regulatory bodies to keep up with changes in technology.
Question: What do you think the impact of the “gig” economy will have on the workforce?
In many cases, these jobs are temporary and are not full time. Look at ride-sharing services. Those jobs could be replaced eventually by automation.
There is a debate over whether these gig workers should be classified as employees or independent contractors. This is being battled out in courts around the nation. We also need the same level of oversight and regulations on gig workers as those in the traditional economy. It is not a level playing field when one set of companies are subject to rules and another performing the same tasks are not.
We are seeing states address this legislatively. Both Florida and Tennessee recently passed bills specifically classifying certain gig workers as independent contractors. The courts are all over on these issues and have been very inconsistent. For example, Uber workers in California have been found to be employees but Grub Hub drivers were found to be independent contractors.
We need to be considering public policy to find a way to make employee benefits portable so that workers in the gig economy can have benefits.
Question: What issues are impacting workplace safety?
Workplace safety is not the priority it once was. OSHA is not being as aggressive as it once was. There needs to be more strict rules and guidelines around safety and these need to be aggressively enforced with severe penalties. Many of these gig workers do not receive any safety protections.
Nanotechnology carries unknown risks. Many think nanotechnology could be the next asbestos. We are not adequately protecting workers who are involved in the production of nanotechnology. There are over 300 studies in this area but no firm regulations around safety.
Question: What do you observe in shifting workplace demographics?
We are seeing many more claims for workers in their 70’s as people are working longer for economic reasons. We are also seeing an increased frequency of accidents for people in their first year with the company and with high worker turnover this is driving us to have higher accident frequency overall. They are challenged to find workers willing to do the heavier manual jobs which is why they are looking to automation to replace these jobs.
Any discussion about immigration and immigrant workers needs to start around whether these workers are legal or not. Illegal workers are often being exploited and do not receive wage and benefit protections including workers’ compensation. This shifts the burden for these illegal workers to social insurance instead of the industry employing them which creates a strain on society.
The average retirement savings for baby boomers is very low which is why they are continuing to stay into the workforce into their 70’s.
In the retail business we are seeing huge job losses because of shifting buying patterns and the use of online retailers. Automation is replacing workers in restaurant locations as well with ordering kiosks. There is concerned there will no longer be jobs available for lower level workers.
This is being driven by consumers. If consumers are willing to use self service kiosks then more businesses will go to them. When we continue to buy foreign made goods because they are cheaper than American made goods, then eventually the American manufacturing goes away.
Question: What accounts for the growing trend of constitutional challenges to the workers’ compensation system?
The legislatures are not listening to the courts. Florida courts ruled abstract caps on benefits were unconstitutional yet Kentucky just passed a law adding such caps. Plaintiff attorneys would also much rather be in a tort system and because of this they will keep trying to find ways around the exclusive remedy of workers’ compensation.
Automation and AI creates efficiency and a safer workplace.
There is an insurance company in Japan that incorporated AI into their claims department and laid off 30% of their workforce. Other insurance companies are looking into this also. Automation and AI has the potential to eliminate many jobs in our industry and white collar jobs in many industries.
Change is coming. It will come at us faster and faster. We can’t control the change, but we can control how we react to it and whether we accept it.
The availability of pensions have significantly diminished and this will continue. Shifting to more independent contractors through the gig economy will leave so many workers without workers’ compensation protections, health insurance, or retirement benefits. There seems to be a lack of respect for human capital.