Unions vs. Robots

Man vs. robot arm wrestling.

While union negotiations have had a long and contentious history, recent dialogue between UPS and the Teamsters trucking union is decidedly bringing some new topics to the table. The union, which represents 260,000 UPS employees, is reportedly demanding that UPS agree to forgo the use of drones and self-driving vehicles.

More than just these workers, this collective bargaining agreement would provide a framework for other companies looking to implement greater levels of automation. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, it’s the first time that a U.S. company the size of UPS has faced these types of demands from a union as influential as the 1.5 million-member Teamsters.

Depending on your perspective, the negotiation could pit the future of these technologies against potential job growth. On the one hand, the use of drones and driverless vehicles could help cut costs and address a shortage of truck drivers. The efficiencies promised by this technology could also ensure UPS doesn’t lose business to competitors like FedEx and DHL as e-commerce increases demand in delivery services. UPS began testing drones launched from delivery trucks last year.

Across the table, unions like the Teamsters are simply looking to keep their members at work. This goal includes many of the 3.5 million truck drivers in the U.S. The union’s recognition of this potential is both intriguing and proactive, as autonomous delivery technologies still need to clear a number of performance and regulatory hurdles before they are adopted on a larger scale.

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