Concerns have also mounted about job losses after Ford’s CEO estimated that EVs would require 40 percent less human labor, although the true number remains a subject of debate. The UAW is seeking job security provisions to protect members during the transition, such as the right to strike over plant closures and compensation if a factory shuts down.
The Teamsters union is likewise worried about job loss from autonomous trucks. Truck driving is the most common job in 29 states, says Peter Finn, a vice president for the union’s western region. “This is going to have a dramatic and potentially disastrous impact on jobs, on communities, and on the economy.” Tuesday’s caravan to Sacramento was aimed at pressuring California governor Gavin Newsom to sign Assembly Bill 316, which would require the presence of a human safety driver in all autonomous vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds. That would include even standard UPS or Fedex delivery trucks. While the bill passed the State Assembly and Senate with more than 90 percent support and 73 percent support among residents, according to one poll, Newsom’s office has indicated he may veto it, arguing that it could stifle innovation.
Trucking and delivery driving jobs come in many different forms. Steve Viscelli, an economic sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania who studies autonomous trucking, says that long-distance highway driving is the most susceptible to automation in the near term. Most autonomous trucking companies are focused on that type of driving. He estimates that 294,000 of these jobs could soon be displaced, 83,000 of which are well-paying union positions.
Viscelli says that driver-monitoring and communication technology has degraded working conditions for US truckers, which had already been undermined by deregulation in the 1980s. He warns that without new regulations, autonomous trucks could hasten that downward trajectory.
Truckers are exempt from overtime laws and often paid by the mile, causing many to spend dozens of hours each week on unpaid labor like waiting for pick-ups and drop-offs. Many are also misclassified as independent contractors, barring them from benefits and union representation, or trapped in predatory training schemes that amount to debt peonage. Under a worst-case scenario for workers, Viscelli imagines, autonomous trucks could pilot themselves down highways while truckers ride along unpaid, ready to take over the more complex navigation through city streets.
Labor leaders say they’re not against innovation, but they want technology that supports workers, not shuts them out. “We need to be able to start writing policies now that ensure that workers are part of the future,” says Regan of the Transportation Trades Department. He points to the Biden administration’s Low- or No-Emissions grants for public buses. The program requires recipients to devote 5 percent of their funding to workforce development and training. Drivers and bus mechanics will “be able to develop new skills and advance along with the technology without worrying about losing their health insurance or taking a big pay cut,” he says, describing it as a win-win for workers and communities that rely on clean, safe, reliable public transit.
Read the full article here