Man vs. Machine: Can Humans Win the Labor War Against Automation?

| By Jim Haller | Senior Manager, Parcel Spend Optimization | Chainalytics |

Think Bradbury, the Terminator, and Wall-E. What do these concepts, and countless others, have in common? Automation, artificial intelligence, a decline in human presence. Works of fiction, but relevant, and often scary, regardless of that little tidbit.

Robotics in the workforce is nothing new. We’ve heard about it and seen it for years, and many of us have even championed it as we touted the convenience, savings, and innovation’s endless possibilities. We’ve engaged in discussions and debates over the impacts on wages, employment, and operations. Both sides of the argument are valid and continuously raise new questions with few answers and new challenges with few solutions. As the debate rages on, one group looks to be firmly be putting their foot down, the UPS Teamsters.

In case you haven’t heard, the UPS Teamsters’ Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires on July 31st, 2018, and the negotiations are far from finished. The contract affects approximately 260,000 employees, and failure to reach an agreement could create a logistical nightmare for one of the world’s largest delivery services. At the center of talks lies the hot button issue of drones and automated vehicles.

One the major demands the Teamsters are requesting is the restriction of drone and automation technology to deliver packages. UPS has reportedly been developing and testing this technology, but Teamsters obviously feel this would negatively impact their role in the logistics industry and seek to ban UPS from using the technology moving forward.

But with no end of ecommerce increases in sight, continued evolution of the IoT, annual cost increases, advancements in innovation, and additional pressure from Amazon, which is now entering the delivery market, it’s difficult to think UPS will meet this request despite needing further progress before implementation becomes possible. Truthfully, the changes witnessed across the industry the last few years may not make it feasible for them to halt R&D programs if they are to remain competitive against the likes of FedEx, USPS, and the myriad of startups entering the field.

Other requests include an additional 10,000 new hires, no deliveries after 9 p.m., including peak season months, and several others to ensure business continues when the calendar hits August. It will be interesting to see how the negotiations pan out in the coming months, but if history has taught us anything, innovation does not go gentle into that goodnight.

Chainalytics Senior Manager Jim Haller leads the firm’s Parcel Spend Optimization offering, which enables multi-level organizations to reduce costs, improve service levels, negotiate better pricing agreements and generate cost savings of 8-15 percent on their parcel spend.

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