Labor unions have waded into the self-driving debate after the House of Energy & Commerce Committee passed radical legislation on Thursday that will allow manufacturers to get their self-driving cars on the road much sooner.
This will, inevitably, get ugly.
The regulators passed legislation that will allow car makers to make up to 100,000 self-driving cars without federal intervention and essentially self-certify their safety requirements.
All 54 members gave the green light and not one person voted against the changes.
There will be dissent
The transport and logistics industries are major employers in the US, though, and it’s wishful thinking to suggest that this legislation will go through without protests.
Now Larry Willis, the President of the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Division, which is an umbrella organization that covers 32 separate unions, has now spoken up.
“While the committee has tried to improve this bill, more needs to be done to make sure we adopt the right regulatory and labor policies governing the introduction of autonomous vehicles into the country,” he said. “This is likely to cause massive job dislocation and impact on worker safety.”
Four million people to lose their job?
One recent study suggested that 4 million people would lose their jobs due to self-driving technology and that means that resistance is inevitable.
Taxi drivers, truckers and industrial employees will expect their unions to stand up and fight for their cause and the highly-paid executives will simply have to make some form of stand.
The General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which boasts 1.4 million members, has demanded a place at the negotiating table.
“If anyone needs to be at the table for a discussion on self-driving technology, it’s the package car driver, the long-haul truck driver and taxi driver,” James P Hoffa.
Truckers are safe, for now
One change that has gone through is that vehicles that weigh more than 10,000lb will need a driver, which protects the trucking industry for the moment.
Taxi drivers will inevitably rise up against autonomous vehicles, though, as they have to pay handsomely for their permit and cannot possibly compete with an unmanned vehicle that can run around the clock.
But they may have already been outflanked.
Ride-hailing companies already beat the rules
The likes of Uber and Lyft already had to overcome a great deal of legislation when they put owner-driver run services on the streets.
There they could leverage legislation designed to prevent monopolies to allow their drivers on to the streets in most states.
If they had attempted to put self-driving cars on the street first, they may well have encountered much stronger resistance.
They are already winning this war, even without autonomous cars.
Now, with the groundwork done, they can simply remove the driver from the equation.
Both Uber and Lyft played the long game and the unions face an uphill struggle to mount any meaningful form of protest.
Ford, GM and BMW all want a piece of the ride-hailing action, too. That means that a taxi driver’s union would have to go to war with some big hitters.
Nobody will turn back this tide
Autonomy is coming and fighting against it now is like trying to turn back the tide. It simply cannot happen, but individuals will try to gain political capital by making a public stand.
That means we can look forward to some major protests in the coming months and these mild objections are just the opening salvo.