Prepare for the invasion

Driverless trucks are being tested / millions of jobs on the line

In the 10 months since Today’s Teamsters reported the first use of automated driverless trucks at an open-pit mine in Alberta, the use of automated vehicles, including on open roads, has spread. And both labour and corporate sources are warning about mass job loss as a result. Michael Evans, Local 213 Training Plan coordinator, said unions need to prepare themselves to address this coming situation.

Experimental trials with “self-driving vehicles”–especially com- mercial haul trucks–on highways and roads have been going on for several years in the U.S., Europe and Asia. However, last October, the first successful commercial run was completed–190-km by a 16-meter trailer van loaded with beer pulled by an automated tractor in Colorado. Since then there has been an explosion in both interest in and use of such vehicles, and literally millions of driver and transport jobs are on the line. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, an entire convoy of driverless trucks drove from across Europe to the port city of Rotterdam.

“Some states in the U.S. have allowed automated-drive trucks on their freeways,” Evans said, “but not in their cities. (The technology) is still not developed enough for that.”

Meanwhile, China recently announced that it will invest billions of dollars in implementing automated driving technology for commercial transport fleets.

Many corporations and employers see the new sys- tems as an opportunity to automate and lay off staff. At the Suncor mine in Ft. McMurray, Alberta, where six driverless trucks are being used in a year-long trial—the first such use of this technology in Canada—drivers are concerned.

“Trucks don’t get pensions, they don’t take vacations, it’s purely dollars and cents,” Ken Smith, president of 3,400-member UNI- FOR 707A local in Fort McMurray, told the CBC. “The second wave of layoffs due to technology will be crippling to Fort McMurray, for sure. It’s one of our biggest fears: that these autonomous- haul trucks will replace one-third of our workforce.”

Suncor bosses have said there are no current plans to lay off any more staff, and that the use of what they call an automated haulage system is still only experimental. But Smith said the initial layoffs are evidence of what’s to come.

(Read more in Today’s Teamsters)