Tesla and Toyota don’t necessarily agree on many things, but the pairing are surprisingly united in the US over the proposal that electric vehicles built by unionised workforces should be eligible for a larger federal tax credit than EVs built by non-union workers.
The two marque’s respective workforces are largely non-unionised, with reports that less than 1000 Toyota employees in the US aren’t in a union. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has previously been in trouble for tweeting anti-union rhetoric, while Toyota’s US arm has long been against the United Auto Workers (UAW) union, having previously published full-page newspaper ads advocating anti-union agendas.
Things came to a head late last week following a speech that Michigan democratic senator Debbie Stabenow delivered to workers at a General Motors’ new ‘Factory Zero’ electric vehicle plant in Detroit. It’s fair to say that Toyota isn’t on Stabenow’s Christmas card list.
“I think it takes a lot of nerve for an auto company based in Japan, where they make it almost impossible for us to sell to them in Japan, where they receive government funding and consumer rebates in Japan, where they have a union labor force in Japan — in fact, everywhere except in America, by the way, where they fight tooth and nail against Americans who tried to organize — it takes a lot of nerve for them to fight our effort to have a consumer bonus for buying vehicles made by the United Auto Workers,” she said.
“So I call this just leveling the playing field, and I’m committed to supporting the home team and leading this effort in the Senate.”
Toyota ended up getting wind of Stabenow’s comments, prompting their own lengthy response to what it calls a “direct attack” on its opposition to what it labels a “discriminatory proposal”. It adds that the bill treats non-union workers as “second class”.
“Toyota believes that the future of mobility is electric and we support incentives that make the cost of EVs more affordable to consumers,” said its response.
“But U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has proposed an extra $4,500 incentive for Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) made by workers who have decided to join a union. This would give an insurmountable advantage to just three companies: General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, which owns Chrysler, Jeep, Ram and other foreign brands.
“We don’t believe the government should discriminate against fully half of all U.S. autoworkers simply because they have decided not to join the UAW.”
The response has been criticised by some due to Toyota’s willingness to support unions in other regions where it produces cars. The phrase “decided to join a union” has also come under the spotlight, given how the brand has been accused on multiple occasions across multiple decades of influencing its workforce against joining the UAW.
The UAW, it’s worth noting, has a mixed record of success in the US. ‘The Big Three’, Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) all fared very poorly during the last global financial crisis, with GM and Stellantis both on the brink of financial collapse at the time and all three receiving some form of government bailout.
On the flipside, the UAW boasts that its members are paid, on average, 11.2 per cent better than those not on the union according to figures it released in August 2020. It also notes that those workers have better access to health insurance and paid sick leave.