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.