By Sheri Williams
Even as Teamsters across the United States prepare for a possible strike against UPS, California Teamsters and their Labor allies are fighting to keep California’s roads safe from self-driving autonomous trucks.
The union is working with legislators to pass California Assembly Bill 316 (AB 316), which would require a trained human operator in autonomous vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds. The bill overwhelmingly passed the California State Assembly a few weeks ago with strong bipartisan support and will now be considered by the Senate. Teamsters say that having a human driver in large trucks is a critical safety measure to protect other drivers and pedestrians.
“California highways are an unpredictable place, but as a Teamster truck driver of 13 years, I’m trained to expect the unexpected. I know how to look out for people texting while driving, potholes in the middle of the road, and folks on the side of the highway with a flat tire. We can’t trust new technology to pick up on those things,” said Fernando Reyes, Commercial Driver and Teamsters Local 350 member, in a press release. “My truck weighs well over 10,000 pounds. The thought of it barreling down the highway with no driver behind the wheel is a terrifying thought, and it isn’t safe. AB 316 is the only way forward for California.”
The bill is being considered as the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) works on a regulatory framework that would allow for autonomous vehicles over 10,000 pounds to hit the road, possibly by 2024, without consent from the legislature. In its press release, the union said, “It is undemocratic for such a sweeping public policy change to be implemented by the DMV.”
“AB316 will keep California roads safe and protect good-paying jobs,” the union continued.
The bill, first introduced in January, is authored by California Assembly Members Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), Asm. Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), Asm. Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), and Asm. Ash Kalra (D-San Jose).
“I am thrilled that over 60 of my Assembly colleagues supported AB 316 on the floor today. This joint effort with the Teamsters and Labor Federation will slow the profit-motivated drive to human-less trucking by putting the Legislature between venture capital, well-paid jobs and public safety,” said Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters). “We will continue to fight to protect our expert trucking workforce. We will continue to fight to protect the traveling public. The road ahead will not be easy and we’ll need every working Californian to join the fight to have this bill become law this year.
Reports of AV crashes and AV-related deaths have become increasingly common, with passenger vehicles weighing far less than a heavy-duty truck, the union said.
“Given these serious reports, it is no surprise that the general public has become increasingly fearful and skeptical of automated vehicles. A March 2023 study from the American Automobile Association (AAA) found that nearly 70% of Americans are afraid of fully self-driving cars, a significant increase from previous years. Similarly, in April 2023, more than 70% of Texas residents reported that they would be scared to share the road with a driverless semi-truck or tractor-trailer.”
“We need AB 316 to pass because we can’t trust big tech companies to look out for the best interest of Californians,” said Randy Cammack, President of Teamsters Joint Council 42. “Not a single one of these AV companies have demonstrated that they have a safe product, are committed to retraining workers displaced by automation, or that they will create more middle-class jobs than they destroy. These companies are against AB 316 because they’re looking out for their bottom line, and workers need elected officials to look out for theirs.”
“AB 316 continues to secure strong bipartisan support because safety and good jobs are not partisan issues; these are the fundamentals that all Californians care about,” said Jason Rabinowitz, President of Teamsters Joint Council 7. “Today’s vote is a critical win for AB 316, and we look forward to continuing to work with our state’s electeds across both sides of the aisle to ensure this bill is a legislative priority for our State Senate. We will be paying close attention to who is with us and against us on this bill.”
“The fact that the DMV is apparently considering the expansion of large AVs when there’s already safety incidents involving smaller robotaxis nearly every week in San Francisco is an insult to California voters,” said Peter Finn, Teamsters Western Region International Vice President and Secretary-Treasurer of Local 856. “It’s obvious to everyone outside of tech that these vehicles aren’t ready for primetime and are a threat to prosperous middle-class jobs. The DMV needs to stick to what it knows—which is definitely not public safety—and leave lawmaking to lawmakers.”
“This is a tragic issue. Now more than ever after COVID, we need to put people first,” said Kim Tavaglione, Executive Director of the San Francisco Labor Council. “It is up to every one of us to ensure the safety of every Californian. We need to stand up and support AB 316, and we need to make sure that every Californian is safe. Until the technology is safe, we say no to autonomous vehicles.”