Self-Driving Trucks and Labor Law -- A Look Ahead

A prototype Tesla self-driving truck.

In the not-too-distant future, logistics companies may deploy self-driving trucks — and have to engage in collective bargaining with human drivers. How might current legal precedents regarding unions apply to robotics and automation?

In the U.S., an aging population and increasing demand are leading to a shortage of truck drivers. Walmart plans to double its spending on driver recruitment. At the same time, advances in sensors and machine learning have led many automotive providers and industry observers to expect that fleets of driverless trucks will alleviate the problem.

Although Uber recently shut down its research on self-driving trucks, several other organizations are pursuing development of such vehicles. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently said that autonomous systems could be considered as “drivers” for the purposes of regulation.

At the same time, unions such as the Teamsters have expressed concern that robotics will take jobs. A recent report claimed that as many as 300,000 out of 2 million jobs could be at risk.

Littler attorney Alan Levins writes about self-driving trucks

Littler attorney Alan Levins

In this free download, two attorneys at Littler Mendelson explain how labor law applies to automation and the changing workforce and how legal precedents around contracting might apply.

Alan Levins and Amanda Osowski delve into the legal background around “mandatory” and “permissive” subjects of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) under the National Labor Relations Act.

They discuss how contracting and subcontracting of work is similar to the replacement of labor by robotic trucks.

Littler attorney Amanda Osowski

Littler attorney Amanda Osowski

Legal precedents, including Supreme Court cases, anticipate potential displacements from self-driving trucks.

Employers, automation suppliers, and transportation companies should understand how past cases and rulings could affect their adoption of the technology and response to worker concerns.

Even as the technology behind self-driving trucks advances, businesses should be ready for the social and legal ramifications of rapidly evolving workforce practices.