Bus drivers are fighting for protections as autonomous vehicles pop up nationwide, Joann reports today.

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1 big thing: Bus drivers vs. robots

Illustration: Aรฏda Amer/Axios

Unionized bus drivers have negotiated an unprecedented labor deal with a local transit agency that gives them veto power over autonomous vehicles (AVs), Joann reports.

Why it matters: It's one way labor unions hope to protect drivers' jobs, even amid driver shortages โ€” and part of a broader backlash against self-driving vehicles.

Driving the news: The Transport Workers Union's new collective bargaining agreement with the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) includes first-of-its-kind language requiring the union's consent to implement any form of autonomous transportation.

  • If such technology is deployed, a qualified union operator must be aboard.
  • The contract also says bus operators and mechanics cannot be laid off or have their wages reduced because of new or modified technology.

What's next: Union leaders aim to negotiate similar protections in upcoming contract talks with transit agencies in other cities, including San Francisco, Philadelphia and Houston.

  • The TWU has a total of 37 transit locals, including in Miami, New York, Akron, Ann Arbor, Omaha and Winston-Salem, among others.
  • "Nearly every transit company is coming up for bargaining in the next 18 months," TWU president John Samuelsen tells Axios. "We're negotiating this language in every city."

Catch up quick: The union has been fighting over AVs in Ohio since 2017, shortly after Columbus won a $50 million federal grant to reinvent mobility โ€” including a pilot to deploy driverless shuttles in underserved neighborhoods.

What they're saying: The union is not anti-tech, Samuelsen says, insisting that drivers would support features like pedestrian-detection technology.

  • "We want an operator behind the wheel. But we're open to having a conversation in the future about how technology can assist the operator in the performance of their duties or improving safety and service delivery."
  • Bus operators do more than just drive a bus all day, TWU officials say โ€” they've aided senior citizens, reunited lost children with parents, performed lifesaving CPR, alerted first responders to crimes in progress, and even helped pregnant women going into labor.

The other side: "At COTA, we have always believed in pursuing new technology as a way to make mobility safer and more efficient for employees and customers โ€” not a means of replacing our outstanding workforce," COTA spokesperson Jeff Pullin tells Axios.

  • "This new contract exemplifies that philosophy."

The big picture: Autonomous vehicles promise to make transportation safer and more accessible for everyone.

  • But robotaxis and driverless trucks are being tested and deployed in cities without residents' explicit consent, and without much oversight.
  • There are no federal regulations governing AVs โ€” just a patchwork of state laws.

Recent incidents involving Cruise and Waymo robotaxis, along with fears about automation's impact on workers, have spurred objections across many sectors.

  • In California, for example, the Teamsters union is reviving an effort to require human operators in every heavy-duty autonomous truck, after Gov. Gavin Newsom vetoed an identical bill late last year.
  • Another proposed bill in California would require robotaxi services to be authorized by a local ordinance in every city and county in which they operate.
  • AV manufacturers would also be required to report collisions, traffic violations and other incidents to the California DMV, under another bill.

"Big Tech and its profit-mongering investors are aggressively trying to foist on Americans a future where everything is automated, including mass transit," says TWU's Samuelsen.

  • "The technology is not safe. Self-driving cars have killed and injured people, and it's outrageous that people are being used as crash-test dummies for this technology."

The bottom line: AVs have many remaining hurdles beyond the technology itself.

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2. GE Aerospace invests millions pre-spinoff

A General Electric logo on the engine of a passenger aircraft at the 2023 Dubai Air Show. Photo: Christopher Pike/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Aviation engine giant GE Aerospace is investing approximately $650 million in various facilities worldwide, Alex reports, with the lion's share going to its U.S. plants and suppliers.

Why it matters: It's a piece of a broader push by all sorts of manufacturers to bolster their domestic operations and supply chains.

By the numbers: About $450 million is going toward upgrades at 22 GE Aerospace sites in 14 states, the company says.

  • That includes $54 million for 3D printing tech in Auburn, Alabama; $30 million for military engine assembly and testing in Lynn, Massachusetts; $46 million for four North Carolina commercial airline engine plants and more.
  • It's also investing $100 million in domestic suppliers, and another $100 million in foreign sites.

Zoom in: GE Aerospace is looking to bring on over 1,000 new workers nationwide alongside this new spending.

Between the lines: The investments come as the aviation world has been reeling from engine issues that, for airlines, have ranged from a headache to an existential threat despite booming travel demand.

  • Engine makers like GE are also working on next-gen propulsion tech to help the aviation sector reach its ambitious zero-emissions goals.

What they're saying: GE Aerospace is "consequential and right in the middle of this," Mike Kauffman, GE Aerospace vice president, supply chain, tells Axios.

  • "And that requires investment, both in our technology as we bring forward new, more fuel-efficient power plants ... as well as a need to invest in manufacturing."

What's next: An upcoming spinoff will leave GE Aerospace as an independent entity, the last in a series of moves ending an era for what was once America's most powerful corporate conglomerate.

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3. Some teens want to cut back on social media

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Teens are largely not worried about their technology and social media use, but some at least say they want to cut back, Axios' April Rubin reports from new Pew data.

Why it matters: Social media company leaders are attempting to address their platforms' negative effects on youth mental health, as health experts and policymakers call for stricter regulations.

The big picture: Most teens think the benefits of smartphones outweigh the harms for their age group, according to a Pew Research Center survey of 13- to 17-year-olds and their parents.

Yes, but: 38% of teens said they spend too much time on their smartphones.

  • About 25% said they spend too much time on social media, while 39% said they should cut back on social media use.

Reality check: 63% of teens have not limited their smartphone use, and 60% have not limited social media use, per Pew's report.

The other side: Parents overwhelmingly find it imperative to manage their teens' smartphone time, with 76% of parents saying it's important or a top priority.

  • But they have a hard time getting there: 38% of both parents and teens said they argue at least sometimes about excessive phone use.

Keep reading.

4. Reddit preps to go public

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Reddit disclosed yesterday that it plans to raise up to $748 million in its initial public offering, Axios Pro Rata's Dan Primack reports, which is likely to come next week.

Why it matters: It would be the first U.S. social media company to go public since Pinterest in 2019.

By the numbers: Reddit filed to offer 22 million shares at between $31 and $34 per share.

  • At those terms, the IPO would raise between $682 million and $748 million, at a fully diluted valuation of between $5.8 billion and $6.4 billion.

Reddit also said that it will launch a dedicated subreddit for users to ask questions about the offering โ€” kind of like an AMA, but with a lot more lawyers involved.

Go deeper.

Big thanks to What's Next copy editor Amy Stern.

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