- The Transportation Trades Department (TTD) of the AFL-CIO is asking Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to "better prepare for the threats that automation poses to our public transportation workforce" in a new policy statement. That includes the creation of a transportation workforce fund to cover the potential adverse impacts of autonomous vehicles (AVs).
- The labor group, which includes 32 member unions, asks that transit agencies integrating autonomous technology must notify employees ahead of time, study the workforce impact and negotiate with affected employees when AVs are adopted. The group also asks that any company or agency bringing in AVs submit a workforce impact report to the USDOT.
- As a safety measure, TTD also requests that fully autonomous vehicles be required to have operators on board to respond to emergencies, summon first responders and provide backup for technical problems.
Much of the discussion around the labor impacts of autonomous vehicles has been around industries like cab drivers and long-haul truckers, but the TTD policy statement acknowledges that autonomy will also affect the transit industry. Already, several cities are experimenting with driverless shuttles to take people to and from transit stops, and there’s even been research into autonomous buses.
"Good union jobs in the transit sector cannot be jettisoned or ignored simply to satisfy the demands of tech companies or Wall Street investors,” TTD wrote in its policy statement. The group says that USDOT guidance on AVs — which took a largely hands-off approach — did not sufficiently address workforce impacts, and is asking Congress to bring the issues to the fore as it again considers a comprehensive AV bill.
Specifically, the group wants a further study of the issue, including the requirement that before any public transportation agency can run 5% of its miles in AVs, the agency must update a biennial workforce plan, including plans to train existing workers and analyzing the impact on existing workers. TTD also wants the White House to do similar research.
The idea of creating a workforce fund to cover the impacts — which TTD proposes be funded by a mileage fee on AVs — could be a tough sell in Congress, since it would likely limit the reach of AV testing. Still, the labor impacts are top of mind for some legislators; U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-MI, a lead author of an AV bill, has previously warned that AI systems "have the power to displace a lot of jobs, and I’m very concerned about the hollowing out of the middle class."
It’s still unclear what the labor impact may be. A Brookings Institution study released last fall estimated that more than 9.5 million workers (1 in 20 workers across the country) could be affected by AV technology or other changes in transportation, although that disruption could just mean retraining or moving to a new job. A report from Michigan State University and the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that passenger-based services, like limousine or cab drivers, were most likely to be affected; transit jobs, the report found, would require re-training but could remain because transit services require passenger interaction.