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Labor and Technology

I had the privilege of attending the AFL-CIO 5th Annual Labor Innovation & Technology Summit (LIT), which our Union was proud to sponsor. The summit was held the week of the Consumer Electronic Show (CES), the largest technology show in the country. Many thought the transition to autonomous transportation would likely be gradual, allowing time for workforce adaptation and retraining. During a tour at CES, we met with vendors showcasing their products and services. The transition to autonomous vehicle (AV) technology appears to be closer than we think.

The advancement of AV technology has sparked discussions and debates regarding its potential impact on our members and public transportation systems. As these vehicles inch closer to becoming a reality, it’s essential to examine how they may reshape our workforce and revolutionize the way people commute.

One of the most profound implications of autonomous vehicles is the transformation of labor within our industry. Traditional roles of our members such as rail operators, and even bus operators could face displacement as AVs eliminate the need for human drivers.

As AV fleets expand, there will be a demand for technicians to service and repair these vehicles, which will require our members to be trained to transition from our current fleets. This is one reason why International President John Costa has made workforce development a priority.

Transit agencies must collaborate with Labor and educational institutions to provide resources and support for workers to acquire the skills needed for the evolving transportation landscape. It’s crucial for stakeholders to collaborate on workforce development initiatives, regulatory frameworks, and infrastructure investments.

In an era defined by rapid technological advancements and evolving labor dynamics, the AFL-CIO LIT Summit stands as a pivotal gathering to address the intersection of these two critical domains. Held annually, this conference serves as a platform for labor leaders, technology experts, policymakers, and academics to engage in dialogue, share insights, and explore strategies for navigating the complex challenges and opportunities presented by the digital age.

One of the central themes of the LIT Summit was the need to strike a balance between embracing technological innovation and safeguarding the rights and interests of workers. As automation, artificial intelligence, and other emerging technologies reshape industries and occupations, there is a pressing need to ensure that workers are not left behind or exploited.

Another focus of the Summit was empowering workers to advocate for their rights and interests in the digital economy. As gig work, platform-based employment, and non-traditional forms of labor become increasingly prevalent, traditional labor organizations are exploring new strategies to organize and represent workers in these sectors.

As the LIT Summit continues to evolve and expand its reach, it remains a beacon of hope and inspiration for workers and their Unions navigating the complexities of the digital age. By fostering collaboration, innovation, and solidarity, the Summit serves as a catalyst for positive change in the labor movement and the broader society.

As we look to the future, it is clear that the intersection of labor and technology will continue to shape the economic landscape, the lives of our members, our Union, and the transit industry. Under the leadership of International President Costa, our Union will be at the forefront to engage in thoughtful dialogue, strategic planning, and collective action, so we can harness the power of technology to build a more just, equitable, and sustainable future for all.