In the midst of conversations occurring around the country about the role that racism and discrimination plays in all aspects of American society, Paige Smith and Daniel Stoller wrote in Bloomberg about the potential that artificial intelligence systems can play in introducing additional bias into the hiring process early on. However, companies including Colgate-Palmolive Co., McDonald’s Corp., Boston Consulting Group Inc., PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, and Kraft Heinz Co have moved to do so as millions of Americans are unemployed due to the economic impacts of the pandemic.
While these tools aim to efficiently eliminate candidates that lack the necessary skill criterion or experience for the position, these hiring algorithms are often opaque in nature because they often operate within a “black box,” as OnLabor writer Sejal Singh has wrote about in the past. In addition, certain tools can lead to discriminatory outcomes. For example, facial scanning tools that focus on speech patterns and facial expressions can discriminate against people with disabilities; tools that look for immediate past experience could discriminate against parents who exited the workforce to raise their children. In fact, Amazon eliminated an AI program it used because the company uncovered that the system taught itself to prefer male candidates over female candidates. Though there is also a likelihood of unconscious bias and discrimination entering into the hiring process with direct human involvement, companies must consider the impact that implementing more efficient applicant systems may have on the diversity of their workforce. State and federal lawmakers and regulators must also consider passing legislation to restrict the use of such opaque measures to protect the job opportunities of all workers.
As the impact of COVID-19 continues to affect every sector of the labor market, state supreme courts and bar licensing groups throughout the country have had a patchwork response to the provision of diploma privilege and bar exams to recently graduated law students. Sam Skolnik of Bloomberg Law wrote an article yesterday that covered the variety of actions taken by states to allow new lawyers to enter the legal workplace, which include delaying in person exams to the fall, moving the bar test online, waiving bar examinations altogether, and/or providing diploma privilege or provisional licensing.
State officials have announced various plans to try and balance student health concerns with the state’s interest in ensuring that new lawyers are competent enough to represent clients. This has led to graduating law students campaigning to demand options that provide them with the ability to safely begin practicing as soon as possible. The most widely held demands by the new lawyers include either waiving the bar exam altogether or implementing an “emergency diploma privilege” to allow them to work immediately until they are able to safely take the bar exam. Oregon, Washington, and Utah have been the only states so far to allow law graduates to bypass their bar exams. Some states, including Nevada, Maryland, and D.C., have moved their tests online, while others have delayed the in-person exams to September or October. States like New York, Pennsylvania, and Georgia have implemented a compromise solution, called provisional licensing, which allows legal graduates to perform some legal work under the supervision of licensed attorneys. Given the increasing need of legal representation in the midst of a global pandemic and national protests against police brutality, states should not force new lawyers to choose between the preservation of their health and their ability to begin a legal profession.
In international news, NPR reported that well-known Mexican labor rights lawyer, Susana Prieto, who led a series of wildcat strikes that led to increases in wages and benefits to workers in foreign-owned factories in Mexico was recently arrested and is in state government custody. As the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is set to go into effect this week, labor activists are concerned that Prieto’s recent arrest illustrates that Mexico may not be fulfilling its obligation to properly arbitrate and settle labor disputes, one of the requirements of USMCA. Though Mexico has up to four years to fulfill its commitments, many labor advocates will be continuing to monitor the country’s compliance. In China, there have been local reports that dozens of labor organizers and student activists out of the estimated 80 that were detained in 2018 and 2019 have been released – on the condition that they abandon their activism and be subject to continued government surveillance. China has a history of detaining, jailing, and even torturing activists and dissidents. However, the release of these individuals signals that Chinese authorities may instead be opting to use more coercive, rather than physical, tactics to keep advocates silent.
Finally, CNBC cited a recent United Nations’ labor agency report that provides tangible numbers to the labor and workplace losses that resulted from COVID-19. This report concluded that the coronavirus pandemic caused a 14% drop in global working hours in the second quarter of 2020, which translates to the equivalent of 400 million full-time job losses.