Teamsters were represented in D.C. at a Congressional roundtable Wednesday on the potential impact of automation on drivers. The union stressed the importance of taking action now to ensure quality jobs into the future and provided a strong voice for working people on this issue.
The roundtable also featured a panel of academics, nonprofit leaders, industry representatives and political leaders.
The roundtable covered the issue of automation in the driving profession overall, while also focusing on the disparate impact of automation on people of color.
The roundtable was spurred by a Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies study that found autonomous vehicles would disproportionately impact workers of color. Over 31 percent of Latino workers and 27 percent of African American workers are concentrated in just 30 occupations at high risk of automation.
Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, the ranking member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, convened the panel to hear from experts about jobs, job quality, the status of the technology and what can be done in the labor market to protect workers.
Rep. Scott pointed out that a new class of automation and artificial intelligence is rapidly emerging, holding promise but also the potential to disrupt the economy and impact workers.
Teamsters legislative representative Sam Loesche stressed the importance of good jobs and job quality, as self-driving technology develops.
“While there has been a focus on vehicles that are fully automated, there is unfortunately less attention paid to the impact of lower levels of automation on job quality. While we support innovation that helps drivers, we cannot allow for carriers to potentially chip away at job quality and labor standards by demanding drivers essentially live out of their trucks, or pay drivers less because they’re operating in a platoon. Fortunately, we can take action now to ensure that the quality of jobs and the safety of transportation workers is not a trading piece blindly sacrificed in order to bring these automated vehicles to market as quickly as possible.”
Loesche said it is incumbent that these challenges be addressed by policy makers, and that there is a commitment to all workers that they’ll have access to good, quality jobs.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas said, “We shouldn’t be ashamed to talk about the value of the human factor. I am worried about the safety of the driverless truck. Inventions are great, but we can’t lose jobs.”
The committee noted that advances in automation technologies would hardest hit the workers who can least afford it.
Rep. Mark Takano of California noted that platforms like Uber changed the industry by providing an app interface to do the dispatching, while misclassifying drivers who the company claims are not its employees. However, he noted that self-driving technology has the potential to be a true technological disrupter in that the technology itself is a greater departure from current operations than was the introduction of an app.
Using the ‘rideshare’ example, Takano noted that, “we should look at how the tech sector is putting workers in an unleveraged position. We need greater protections for workers.”
Loesche stated that “public policy can help protect jobs” and talked about the Teamsters Union’s engagement in voicing concerns with any automation that doesn’t serve to enhance workers’ jobs. Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa and General Secretary-Treasurer Ken Hall have both been outspoken on automation, including providing testimony before the Senate.