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.