Workers' Right to Training Act Aims to Protect Workers Who Lose Jobs to Automation

With all of the drama surrounding which Democratic candidate will represent the party in the upcoming 2020 election, it can be easy to forget that there are still elected officials working right now in the halls of Congress. One of them, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, has just proposed the Workers’ Right to Training Act of 2019 that would mandate specific retraining support from companies for workers whose jobs are phased out by automation

Interestingly, Brown had actually considered throwing his hat into the ring and bringing his workers first approach to the 2020 elections earlier this year. Brown opted to stay out of the race, despite his name recognition in Congress, noting that, “the best place to continue fighting for every day workers was as a member of the US Senate.” 

Senator Brown’s bill would require companies whose workers lose jobs to automation, to actively assume the responsibility to reskill those workers. Additionally, the bill would require any worker let go in favor of AI, receive 6-months of severance pay. The bill would also demand that companies give workers at least 180-day’s notice before their jobs were eliminated. Not unlike 2020 hopeful Andrew Yang, Brown thinks that the US should focus on how workers will be treated in a rapidly developing employment landscape that is increasingly turning to automation technologies to assume work tasks. Brown said that the rationale behind the bill is that the human costs of these changes should not be taken lightly by companies embarking on new workplace technologies.

In his announcement in Youngstown, Ohio, one of those locations stripped of manufacturing jobs and hit hard by the recession, Brown told the Associated Press that, "Government has to anticipate this stuff better than we have."   Brown added that many workers were feeling like the government wasn’t doing enough to protect employees who lose jobs to automation. The Ohio Senator speculated that victory in 2020 would be guaranteed, if Democrats focused on what he calls the "dignity of work", especially in battleground states. 

Brown introduced the bill this week, but despite his efforts, it may still be a while before legislation protecting workers from the worst aspects of a rapidly automating economy gets attention, much less passed. As it stands right now, the Democrats are having a hard time getting anything through the Republican dominated Senate.