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Autonomous Vehicles Blog - Driving the Future

Downtown Tampa could soon see autonomous vehicles rolling through downtown streets. The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority operations and safety committee unanimously approved moving forward with a one-year contract between the authority and vendor Beep Inc. to test autonomous vehicles (AVs) in downtown Tampa. While a few other communities around the country have AVs that run in designated lanes, this would be a major step forward for the autonomous vehicle movement in Hillsborough County, Florida.

According to its’ Office of Mobility, the city of Gainesville, Florida is expected to make autonomous electric buses available as a new form of public transportation by the end of the year – which would make Gainesville the first city in the country to have self-driving buses on public roads. While a few other communities around the country have AVs that run in designated lanes, this would be a major step forward for the autonomous vehicle movement.

We reported last year that Florida had created a legal framework in an attempt to motivate companies to test their AVs in the Sunshine State. This past year has seen further efforts on the part of lawmakers – and these efforts appear to already have borne fruit.

The previous installment in our series on labor law issues for the transit employer considering automation discussed the Federal Transit Act.  That Act, in part, requires advance notice of proposed changes that may result in the dismissal or displacement of employees, or rearrangement of the working forces covered by the agreement as a result of projects subject to the Act.  This final installment discusses notice requirements under other laws and agreements.

As part of our series on labor law issues for the transit employer considering automation, we turn now to the Federal Transit Act.  

In order to acquire, improve or operate a mass transit system, perhaps as part of an effort to automate, a transit authority may seek a construction grant or loan from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Authority (FTA) under the Federal Transit Act.  The Act requires, as a precondition to receiving a grant or loan, that an applicant enter into a “protective arrangement” with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) that provides for the preservation of certain employment rights and benefits of mass transit workers. 

Last week, we introduced the duty of transit systems to bargain with labor unions over the decision to implement automation, robotics or artificial intelligence and over the effects of such a decision.  That post discussed three statutory and contractual sources of the duty to bargain and the transit employers to whom the duty applies.  Today, we discuss potential subjects for which an employer and union must bargain and steps an employer can take now to better position itself to automate.

When a transit authority considers automation, a duty to bargain with labor over the decision to automate and a duty to bargain over the effects of the decision may arise.  The source of the duty may be one of three types of labor laws that govern the transit employment relationship:  the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the Railway Labor Act (RLA) or state-specific public sector collective bargaining statutes.  This post will discuss the duty to bargain generally.  Next week’s post will review subjects over which an employer may be required to bargain and steps an employer can take now to better position itself to automate.

Autonomous vehicle technology has reached a place where certain technologies are market-ready or readily adaptable to transit operations, and further automation technologies continue to be developed.  These developments are expected to result in future operational savings in part through the elimination of driver and maintenance staff positions and reduced overtime.  For the remaining workers, job responsibilities will change and new skills will be required.  Even partial automation may result in job losses or a “de-skilling” of the vehicle operator role.  These eventualities will trigger labor law obligations.

In the world of automation, companies must take care to not forget about worker safety.  Planning for worker safety while planning for automation helps the transition for both.  In planning for worker safety, there are a few key areas to keep in mind.

Tags: OSHA

Traditional automakers and large tech companies continue to acquire AV-tech startups as competition for key personnel, proprietary technology, and AV data increases. As the AV industry continues to consolidate, traditional auto makers and tech companies will need to continue to conduct thorough due diligence during the acquisition phase. Moreover, they will need to have policies and procedures in place to protect trade secrets and confidential information, while ensuring that any potential acquisition target has properly managed and protected its AV-related data.

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