Teamsters Fight to Prevent UPS from Using Drones, Autonomous Vehicles

Don Quixote went around jousting windmills to no avail.  It was such a pointless act, albeit a fictional act, that the word quixotic came into our lexicon.  To be quixotic is to fight against something that you cannot defeat, and to do so passionately.  The actual definition of quixotic is “exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical.”

Why am I giving the etymological root of the word quixotic?  This word, and even the etymology behind it (ESPECIALLY the etymology behind it) defines the efforts of the Teamsters Union that are attempting to negotiate a contract with UPS that would prevent it from using drones and autonomous vehicles.

The Teamsters Union is essentially asking UPS to sacrifice, in a fundamental way, its ability to become more efficient, more profitable, and to remain, at the very least, competitive with other shippers who are SURE to use these technologies.

The fact that the Teamsters are actually attempting to get UPS to end any pursuit of utilizing these technologies demonstrates that the Teamsters do not have a basic shared common goal with UPS, to continue to see UPS be competitive and profitable.  Rather, they imagine they can protect their jobs with no consideration of competitiveness and profitability.

In short, the Teamsters need to get some basic economics lessons.

Fighting The Future: Teamsters Demand UPS Ban Drones And Autonomous Vehicles

Reports are coming out that as the Teamsters are entering negotiations on a new contract with shipping giant UPS, their demands include a ban on both drone deliveries and on the use of autonomous vehicles. These are, not surprisingly, both technologies that UPS has been experimenting with lately (as has nearly every other delivery company).

You can understand the short term thinking here, of course, UPS drivers see both of those options as potential “competition” that would decrease the number of drivers and potentially cause many to lose their jobs. And that might be true (though, it also might not be true as we’ll discuss below). But, at the very least, demanding that the company that employs you directly choose not to invest in the technologies of the future is demanding that a company commit suicide — in which case all those jobs for drivers would likely be eliminated anyway. While there are obviously a lot more variables at work here, it’s not hard to see how a competing delivery company — whether Fedex, the US Postal Service, Amazon or someone else entirely — could get drone/driverless car delivery right, and suddenly UPS’s service is seen as slower, more expensive and less efficient in many cases. If that’s the case, UPS would likely have to layoff tons of workers anyway.

The other key point: the idea that these technologies are simply going to destroy all the jobs is almost certainly highly overstated. They very likely will change the nature of jobs, but not eliminate them. Professor James Bessen has been doing lots of research on this for years, and has found that in areas of heavy automation, jobs often increase (though they may be changed). That links to an academic paper he wrote, but he also wrote a more general audience targeted piece for the Atlantic on what he calls the automation paradox. As Bessen explains:

Automation reduces the cost of a product or service, and lower prices tend to attract more customers. Software made it cheaper and faster to trawl through legal documents, so law firms searched more documents and judges allowed more and more-expansive discovery requests. Likewise, ATMs made it cheaper to operate bank branches, so banks dramatically increased their number of offices. So when demand increases enough in response to lower prices, employment goes up with automation, not down. And this is what has been happening with computer automation overall during the last three decades. It’s also what happened during the Industrial Revolution when automation in textiles, steel-making, and a whole range of other industries led to a major increase in manufacturing jobs.

 

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Paul Gordon is the publisher and editor of iState.TV. He has published and edited newspapers, poetry magazines and online weekly magazines. He is the director of Social Cognito, an SEO/Web Marketing Company. You can reach Paul at pg@istate.tv