On Sept. 18, the Transport Workers Union of America launched a campaign to form a statewide coalition to protect Bus Operators, bus riders and the public in Ohio from unchecked and dangerous automation that some elected officials in the state are promoting.
Joined by members of the American Federation of Teachers and the Amalgamated Transit Union, TWU International President John Samuelsen and TWU Local 208 President Andrew Jordan announced the People Before Robots campaign in Columbus, OH.
“We’re not going to let anybody give our jobs away to robots. We’re just not,” Samuelsen said. “Bus Operators are too important to the safety of riders and the public, and these working-class jobs are too important to working-class families. If the politicians and profiteers try to wipe out these jobs, they will have a massive fightback on their hands.”
The unchecked and dangerous deployment of autonomous vehicles — including driverless buses in Columbus, Toledo and Cincinnati — could put tens of thousands of Ohioans on the unemployment lines. That includes Bus Operators who should remain in the driver’s seat. An empty seat at the front of an autonomous bus can’t: assist in an emergency, help senior citizens get on board, call 911, give directions or CPR, or go off-route due to an unexpected danger or crisis, including a terror attack.
“The women and men of Local 208 are the backbone of public transportation here in Columbus and throughout Central Ohio,” Jordan said. “We are not opposed to technology. But we won’t stand by and let machines replace human bus operators and decimate middle class jobs that are vital to our communities and to our local and state economies. I will say it again: A bus is NOTHING without US!”
Ohio State AFL-CIO Passes Resolution
That afternoon, delegates to the Ohio State AFL-CIO 31st Biennial Convention unanimously passed the resolution, “Addressing the Challenges and Threats of Autonomous Vehicles to Transportation Worker Jobs in Ohio.”
Jordan read the resolution, “The Ohio AFL-CIO recognizes that technology to not an adequate substitute for human operators and declares its opposition to the replacement of experienced, professional transportation workers, who have long provided their communities essential, safe and secure public transit services, by autonomous vehicles in the provision of public transportation.”
“This is very much a class issue. The tech moguls and Wall Street investors who are pushing this initiative drive their BMWs to work – they aren’t taking buses,” stressed Samuelsen, speaking from the convention floor. “Isn’t it interesting how these rich people driving BMWs, who have been divesting in public transit for decades, are now investing in something that takes jobs away from working families. It’s a direct attack on blue-collar jobs in Ohio.”
Before the resolution was passed, attendees got the opportunity to watch a the Fight For Jobs & Safety, produced by the TWU International as part of this campaign.
People Before Robots Community Briefing
Wednesday, Sept. 19 kicked off with an early-morning, pre-convention, community briefing, hosted by the TWU International. Dozens came to hear panelists speak about the threat of autonomous vehicles. Moderated by TWU Political Director Regina Eberhart, the morning began with the People Before Robots: TWU Autonomous Bus Fight Back Campaign video, produced by the TWU International.
Rep. Michele Lepore Hagan (OH-28) talked about the importance of having an actual human operating a bus. “It’s a lot more than driving people from A to B. You deserve a seat at the table,” she said.
Rep. Jim Hughes (OH-24) noted that the threat of autonomous vehicles “is not a Republican or a Democrat issue. This is about safety and jobs…[a driverless bus] won’t know if a deer pops out or a child. They don’t have the eyes and ears of a common-sense bus driver who can see and hear what is going on,” he explained.
Carly Allen, President of ATU Local 697 in Toledo, said, “They are not addressing the issue of funding. To see ODOT throw money into autonomous coaches and not transit…”
Allen recalled how a fellow bus operator prevented someone from committing suicide and has aided domestic violence victims. “A driverless van downtown doesn’t know that Mrs. Smith has Alzheimer’s,” she said. “These things frighten me as a citizen and a mother. It’s a huge impact on our community.”
Akshai Singh, Community Organizer for Northern Ohioans for Budget Legislation Equity, said driverless buses are a “Major concern for any pedestrian or anyone who wants to catch a bus,” especially those with mobility issues.
“The first person we interact with and our lifeline is our driver. We depend on our buses in inclement weather,” Singh explained. “Keep drivers in buses where they keep us safer…(especially for) folks with disabilities it’s such a major need. Paratransit keeps getting more expensive.”
Deb Kline, Director of Cleveland Jobs with Justice and President of OPEIU Local 1794, talked about how ICE officers are trying to board buses with bogus warrants and how bus operators act as a barrier to their targeting of passengers they believe may be undocumented.
“This will affect our communities and the immigrant community,” she said, while handing out samples of real warrants and bogus warrants so attendees could see the difference.
“If you are a driver and an ICE officer tries to come on your bus, unless they have a warrant, they can’t come on,” Kline explained.
TWU Local 208 ‘Tests’ Autonomous Shuttle
When Smart Columbus and Drive Ohio unveiled the vendor for Columbus’ AV on Sept. 19 outside of COSI, TWU Local 208 showed up en masse in their “This is a Driverless Bus” T-shirts – much to their chagrin.
Employees from Smart Columbus did not allow union members to attend the event, instead quarantining us far away from the demonstration. However – testing, for the second time in a row, couldn’t happen. Something went wrong with the T-Bar, or steering wheel, and the company that made the vehicles – May Mobility – was afraid it might drive into the Scioto River.
Holding TWU Local 208’s banner, TWU members chanted “Our Jobs, Our Work” and “People Before Robots” in protest.
TWU Local 208 Bus Operator Darryl Neal told WOSU that a couple of months ago, he found a suspicious device at the end of his route, which turned out to be a homemade nightstick. “I was trained to spot these things,” he said. “An AI, artificial intelligence, cannot get out of the seat to make sure this bus is safe.”
The TWU protest was also covered by WDTN 2. You can also view livestreamed videos on Facebook, @TWULocal208.
Fight Just Beginning
The fight against autonomous vehicles is just beginning. Follow @TWULocal208 on Facebook and Twitter for updates.
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