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Better get it right on driverless vehicles

Otto-Autonomous-Truck-on-Highway

By Jim Hansen

It was gratifying to learn that State Representative Jeff Bridges doesn’t limit his consideration only to his constituents, John Elway and Peyton Manning, when he beats the drum for driverless vehicles.

He said he has bigger concerns. So we were immediately delighted recently when we began to read Representative Bridge’s paean to autonomous transportation conveyances in the Denver Post. Unfortunately, though, that was a snap judgment, made before we completed his guest column.

Bridges failed to mention the two issues that might eventually have the greatest impact on the most people — those who are going to lose their jobs and those who might be victims of insufficient safety protections.

Indeed, organized labor does share Representative Bridges’ concern for elderly people who can’t drive safely anymore, those who are physically or developmentally disabled, economically disadvantaged or drivers who are easily distracted. Clarinet lessons and Disney vacations are a stretch for us, but we’ll be charitable in a search for conciliation.

Organized labor understands that driverless vehicles will eventually be a part of our everyday life, and members don’t oppose the development of this exciting concept.

But it is indefensible not to cite unemployment and safety as serious potential problems. It is vital that these issues are considered simultaneously with the development of the industry.

Thousands of workers are wondering how their lawmakers will solve — or try to solve — the unemployment that will be caused by this new transportation concept.

It is expected that a big chunk of the state’s economy would be lost when driverless vehicles displace possibly 100,000 workers, including commercial drivers — those who drive trucks, buses, taxis and limousines — and warehouse workers and others.

The average individual wage for workers in the ground transportation industry is $51,000. What will be those workers’ destiny when they lose their livelihood?

During the statehouse hearings on driverless vehicles legislation it was easy to reach the conclusion that nobody — except those who will lose their jobs — gives much of a damn about the future of those workers.

There was no mention of retraining or any other form of help for workers displaced by their own tools of work. And Rep. Bridges didn’t touch on that in his ode to vehicles without drivers.

Another unmentioned problem will be how the state will replace the economic benefits that will be lost if thousands of workers are put out of their jobs, benefits such as lost income taxes, sales taxes and also revenue losses to businesses they patronize?

A major concern for the public should be safety, which has apparently not been given much thought by the Silicon Valley techies who can figure out almost everything else, especially that which makes money for them.

If history is any indication, safety issues may not be among their priority concerns.

Representative Bridges cites the airline industry as an example of a safe industry. He didn’t, however, mention that while aircraft today is perfectly capable of flying without pilots, history shows it endured perilous and deadly growing periods. It is also noteworthy that modern commercial airliners have two pilots in the cabin at all times.

If autonomous vehicles are allowed to operate on state roads prematurely without adequate rules and regulations, the same type of unintended consequences — involving mostly safety and legal issues — will occur that plagued the airline industry in the early years of commercial air travel.

At that time, most of that industry’s rules and regulations were made after fatal airplane crashes. Hopefully, we have learned something since the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903, and will avoid the same destructive path to success.

It would be tragic to think of autonomous vehicles only as shiny objects, which is what the Silicon Valley technocrats want us to believe. Beware — especially as Christmas is approaching.

What has the union done for me?

The union movement in the United States has historically been one of the most productive weavers of the fabric of American culture.

Organized labor is primarily responsible for virtually every piece of social legislation ever enacted to help working men and women, including Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, minimum wage and health and safety in the workplace, among many others.

These benefits are taken for granted today by most Americans. They are used — and sometimes abused — by recipients who generally don’t give a damn how they came about.

Perhaps if they were told the real story of how union men and women fought and sometimes died for these rights, they might not choose to believe it; anyway. If Fox News would pronounce the real story a big, fat lie, they would believe it.

But workers’ benefits are now part of the foundation upon which society is based — even though the unions and others who fought for the legislation that created them were vilified as un-American and worse during the heat of the battle.

In fact, what American citizens today consider their “rights” were won by unions after much blood was shed by workers and their families.

In fact, the blood of thousands of workers, mostly coal miners, flowed within states of Teamsters Joint Council 3 during the early 1900s. All the states within the council were the scenes of labor strife. Coal miners were mostly European immigrants and were among the most persecuted workers in American history.

For example, in 1917, 168 miners died horrible deaths after an exposed electrical cable was touched by miner’s carbide lamp in the unsafe Granite Mountain coal mine near Butte, Montana. Underground mines were notoriously unsafe in those days.

Colorado was the scene of several corporate-sponsored attacks on workers earlier in the century, including a battle in 1904 between the Colorado militia and striking miners at Dunnville, a town in the Cripple Creek mining district. The conflict ended with six union members dead and 15 arrested. Some 10 years later in 1914 two women and 11 children were burned to death in the infamous Ludlow Massacre in Southern Colorado after the state militia attacked a strikers’ tent colony.

In Arizona in 1917, the “Brisbee Deportation” occurred when several thousand armed vigilantes forced more than a thousand Brisbee workers into box cars, already laden with manure, and sent them into the New Mexico desert in retaliation for a strike by workers seeking improvements in working conditions at local mines.

Salt Lake City was the site of the execution of labor organizer Joe Hill who was convicted of trumped-up murder charges despite worldwide protests two futile attempts by President Woodrow Wilson to stop the execution.

At the turn of the century from 1899 to 190l U.S. Army troops occupied the Coeur d’Alene mining region in Idaho to quell violence in a widespread labor dispute that started when mining companies hired scabs to replace striking miners.

These were not isolated cases. The 20th Century was replete with labor strife in the United States. Thousands of working men and women—123 women and young girls were killed in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in New York in 1911—were killed striving for workplace rights, which some workers believe were given to them out of the kindness of their employers’ hearts.

Labor history is rarely taught today in public schools. If it is, it is seldom taught well, which has caused a huge problem for contemporary American workers.

The schools don’t provide them with a union legacy, and neither do their parents, most of whom have never been union members themselves. Many of today’s workers—both union and nonunion—don’t realize what organized labor has done for them, and will continue to do for them.

What a shame.