By on May 18, 2021

The Transportation Trades Department for the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is spending its Tuesday telling the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce subcommittee that autonomous vehicles. Though it’s not because they occasionally run amok when left to their own devices. This is a matter of jobs.

Labor leaders have become increasingly concerned by the massive layoffs that will likely accompany the proliferation of electric vehicles, which require fewer components to assemble. But AVs have played second fiddle until fairly recently, with truckers doing most of the heavy lifting themselves. Now, the ALF-CIO is getting in on the action and hoping to convince legislators to establish formal requirements for there to be a driver behind in the wheel of all commercial vehicles over 10,000 pounds. 

However, considering the recent failure of the driverless Waymo van that was befuddled by traffic cones and ultimately tried to make a break for it when help arrived, it might be worth considering applying similar rules to all AVs. The Alphabet-owned (Google) firm has already started applying for permits to charge customers for rides in its self-driving vehicles, though the company ironically opted to stop using the term “self-driving” at the start of 2021.

Reuters has reported that this is also something that’s currently on the AFL-CIO’s radar. But it’s focusing on larger vehicles likely devoted to long-haul transportation and heavier loads.

“We do not allow passenger airplanes to operate without pilots or passenger rail to run without engineers, and we should use a similar approach with AVs that operate on our often-congested roadways and in complex transit networks,” reads prepared testimony of Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department for the AFL-CIO.

From Reuters:

Concerns raised by major unions, including the Teamsters, are one reason that legislation to grant U.S. regulators the power to exempt tens of thousands of self-driving cars from U.S. safety regulations has not been approved despite five years of efforts.

“We have seen the impacts of automation on other sectors — manufacturing, health care, and retail, to name a few — and the consequences when public policy fails to protect the workers and users it impacts,” Regan will tell lawmakers, also raising concerns about “alternative design vehicles such as delivery bots. Any vehicle that is under the 10,000-pound threshold that will travel on public roads must be properly regulated.”

[Image: Vitpho/Shutterstock]

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

12 Comments on “Largest Labor Group Says Autonomous Trucks Need Drivers...”

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    Aren’t there metro lines that run without operators? This is coming. If the Teamsters and other unions representing these workers really were working for their membership they would be ensuring theat those members had the skills to compete elsewhere when this technology does arrive. But that would mean people no longer paying those union dues and the leadership also needing to find new work. Can’t have that.

  • avatar

    I think autonomous trucking might be a dead-end technology. Not for the reasons you might think. It’s far easier to build automated navigation for drones. Less to worry about and we have nice v-to-v tech with things like ads-b and mlat. No traffic cones to worry about, school zones, dogs etc. The way the drones would work is to do a vertical takeoff from a cargo terminal like a normal drone. These drones also have wings and can have a fossil fuel motor to travel horizontally through the air. Then, when it reaches the next terminal, it lands horizontally like a typical drone. Much cheaper and faster. No road taxes or tolls. Then when it gets to the local terminal, it can be moved conventionally by truck or van for the “last mile.”

    Autonomous trucking is a lot of time and effort for a dead-end technology. More work for an inferior product. Most long-distance over-the-road trucking will be gone by 2030. Autonomous or otherwise. I’ve worked on both land-based and air-based navigation systems. So much easier in the air for autonomous navigation. Maybe 10,000 times easier (and that’s probably an understatement).

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision


      So much to dispute – I don’t know where to begin. How about here: ‘Most* long-distance over-the-road trucking will be gone by 2030.’ Um, that’s in nine years. There is no way this is happening then, despite what tech you work on today.

      *most = weasel word

      I agree that autonomous trucks – and all autonomous cars and drones – are solutions to a problem that no one has. Their continued promotion is primarily due, I assume, to the fact that code crushers have little else to do when they topped out at C++.

      Go rent a helicopter for an hour. That’s what a drone will cost even before it loads up six pallets of dishwashers and patio stones.

    • 0 avatar

      “Most long-distance over-the-road trucking will be gone by 2030.”

      Cannot possibly imagine this happening. Air transport has an inherent inefficiency disadvantage—it takes energy to keep things suspended in midair. It’s always going to be more expensive and justified mostly by speed. Rail is more efficient than trucking and will slowly take over more and more ground transport, but doesn’t have a chance of expanding to cover trucking demand in less than a decade.

      Where the extra speed of air transport doesn’t produce major incremental revenue, “road taxes or tolls” will be a drop in the bucket next to the fuel savings from ground transport.

  • avatar

    According to a recent story, there is a shortage of drivers. So Teamsters et al want to have drivers sit in the cab like Tesla drivers?

    Most low skill entry level jobs are going to be replaced by some form of new tech, even higher skilled jobs.

    Retraining is what is necessary. Many unions have already moved into representing other workers, UNIFOR in Canada is a prime example.

  • avatar
    Ol Shel

    Allow big business to eliminate all the jobs.

    Our country doesn’t have business for the benefit of the people. It’s for some other reason, apparently.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. There shouldn’t be any rules or laws that prevent any business from eliminating or creating jobs. And you are right that business arnt for the benefit of the people, it’s for the owner of the business.

  • avatar

    one way to make them safer will be to have them drive much slower 20-30 mph. they can drive 24 hours so what’s the difference?

    • 0 avatar

      Are you suggesting we require autonomous trucks to drive on existing freeways at 20-30mph? Body shops and emergency rooms will be busy with all the wrecks from human drivers rear-ending the AV’s that are all but stopped amidst the 65-80mph flow of traffic.

  • avatar

    A really good semi truck driver is impressive to see on road trips (well-maintained equipment, impeccable lane discipline, always planning ahead, courteous despite the many idiots driving smaller vehicles).

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    It’s always sad to see this. I’m old enough to remember the big hoo-hah when railroad unions fought to preserve the jobs of firemen on diesel locomotives (where they weren’t needed). “Preserving jobs” that have become redundant or unnecessary is a dead-end, for everyone. (I’m not talking about preserving domestic jobs that have been sent overseas by companies engaging in labor arbitrage.). Better to figure out how to give these folks an “off-ramp” that minimizes the adverse effect on their families and, in the case of fixed-location jobs, communities.

    That said, I think the entire “autonomous driving” thing is a total crock. Thus far, autonomous vehicles have proved a danger to everyone in the vicinity. Even worse, there seems to be no particular understanding as to why these systems fail. The closest thing we have to autonomous driving today is passenger airliners where, for fuel efficiency reasons, the autopilot flies the plane almost the whole time. Even that has its downside as a number of crashes have been attributed to the pilots’ degradation of “piloting skills” from having been essentially a passenger for so much of their time in flight.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Denver

      Autonomous vehicles don’t have to be perfectly safe – they just have to be safer than human drivers. People find it hard to accept if an AV kills even one person but human drivers in the US alone kill 40,000 people every year, almost as much as US combat deaths from the entire Vietnam War, each and every year. So if autonomous vehicles were only half as bad as humans, 20,000 lives would be saved every year.

      Now for over the road trucks, they would have to meet a higher standard since professional truckers are better than average drivers, but still a some point (which is greater than zero accidents) self driving trucks would be better than human trucks.

      Self driving also potentially offers a better lifestyle for drivers. At first at least, the self driving trucks would drive from interstate on-ramp to off-ramp and there would still be human drivers at either end. Such locally based drivers could go home every night.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • la834: This is basically Elon realizing that Tesla may need to advertise as increasingly numerous, increasingly...
  • Ol Shel: Bah! Kids these days! They don’t even like being jerked around by sleazy car dealers! What is this...
  • dal20402: I think he would rather be making deliveries to his buddy Vladimir Vladimirovich in Moscow.
  • mor2bz: I wish I could agree with you but I do not. Musk claims that incessant badmouthing of his company would be...
  • EBFlex: “ The same batch of people will whine about “defunding” and in the same breath complain about the...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber