Two of California's biggest robotaxi opponents join forces

Two of the biggest groups to oppose robotaxi expansion in California are now formally working together.

Teamsters 856, which is tied to one of the longest-standing labor unions in the U.S., and Rideshare Drivers United (RDU), a group that advocates for app-based workers, said on Friday they'll work together to push for "responsible guardrails on autonomous vehicles [(AVs)] to ensure public safety and protect driving jobs." The groups intend to advocate both locally and in Sacramento, the state capitol.

The partnership isn't solely about limiting AVs, yet robotaxi companies including Waymo and Cruise are racking up adversaries, as well as allies, as they expand. GM-backed Cruise in particular has struggled in the spotlight. The company said it halted all of its commercial driverless operations on Thursday to "rebuild public trust," after one of its robotaxis struck a pedestrian on October 2. The incident prompted a DMV inquiry. Soon after, the regulator suspended Cruise's California permits, saying the company had withheld video footage from its investigation.

Along with calls to regulate robotaxis, Teamsters and RDU say they'll advocate for laws that boost rideshare drivers' compensation and working conditions. The groups argue that AVs threaten a whole range of jobs, such as those held by app-based drivers, long-haul truckers as well as bus and sanitation workers.

Peter Finn, vice president of Teamsters Western Region, said in a call with TechCrunch that they aim to "ensure that the [transportation] law on the state level provides local communities the ability to make decisions." Finn added, "officials that people elect should make those decisions, not these appointed statewide regulators that are disconnected from what people actually want."

RDU counts 20,000 California drivers as members, while Teamsters 856 says it represents 17,000 workers in California. Both have recently participated in AV-focused rallies in San Francisco and Los Angeles County. Teamsters vice president at-large Chris Griswold told TechCrunch this week that the labor union plans to hold more rallies, to "attack" the issue "everywhere in the United States."

RDU President Nicole Moore told TechCrunch, "We've aligned with Teamsters in our fight to regulate transportation, ensure full labor rights for all transport workers, and stop the AV disaster." Moore added, "We're going to be working together more, and we're going to invite a lot of people to work together with us."

Reached by email, Cruise spokesperson Hannah Lindow said that “Cruise’s safety record over 5 million driverless miles continues to outperform comparable human drivers." Lindow went on to say that the firm is the "only AV company to sign industry-first jobs agreements with local IBEW and SEIU members to help power and maintain our growing, all-electric service."

Waymo spokesperson Christopher Bonelli pointed to an earlier statement from the company, which said it "prioritizes working transparently with policymakers" and other stakeholders.

It's true that local California lawmakers are searching for ways to regulate AVs.

Last week, Los Angeles Councilmembers Traci Park and Bob Blumenfield put forward a motion calling for more information on the council's regulatory powers in this area. And this week, LA Councilmember Nithya Raman told TechCrunch that her team is "working with the [DOT] to figure out how to better regulate them.”