In an exercise of what can only be described as ideological blindness – or vindictiveness – President Biden launched his plan to increase the take-up of electric vehicles. He noted that America was the leader in “pioneering the technology” of electric vehicles. The array of vehicles, auto company CEOs, politicians and trade union leaders serving as props for the photo op, some jostling to make sure they were in camera frame, nodded approvingly.
Missing was Elon Musk, the unquestioned leader in creating the technology and manufacturing ability that might make it possible for the President to achieve his stated goal of having electric vehicles account for half those sold by 2030. That exclusion, tweeted Musk, “seems odd.” Tesla, after all, is the fourth-largest American auto maker by sales volume, and accounts for 54% of EV sales, more than the Big 3 combined. The New York Times, increasingly a Biden house organ, did not mention Tesla’s omission in its page one report, noting only that “the three largest auto makers” sent “a signal of industry support.” That followed the President’s line, “Automakers representing nearly the entire U.S. market” support his goal, claimed the President.
Musk, whom we have to thank for shaking up traditional auto makers until he made it impossible for them to continue protecting their massive investments in gasoline-powered vehicles, does not have a unionized work force. The administration’s program, he said, will “expand domestic U.S. manufacturing with union workers”.
The President is devoted to the 6.3% of the private-sector work force that is unionized, rather than to workers in general. We do not know whether union leaders have shared with him their fear that the less labor intensive EVs will reduce the number of auto jobs by about one-third, causing lay-offs of the union workers that make them. So firm is the presidential commitment to the concept of “good union jobs” that when workers voted to reject the opportunity to join a union, as Amazon workers in Alabama did, his regulators declared the election invalid and ordered a re-run. The Amazon workers might well have to vote until they get it right and become dues-paying members of some trade union.
There is more here than a social snub by the President. There is a price to be paid by Tesla for not having a unionized work force. Biden announced that the government will continue to provide anyone buying an electric vehicle with an incentive (credit) of as much as $7,500, which will be good news to the Hollywood and other high-income consumers who buy most of these cars. Buyers of made-in-the-USA vehicles will get an additional $2,500, to which add another $2,500 credit “for union-made vehicles.” The reaction of Musk and Tesla’s more than 70,000 non-union U.S. employees has not been recorded.
This presidential bias should come as a warning to innovators in all industries. In their efforts to unseat incumbents who might be unionized, they will face a cost disadvantage. Unless, of course, the President’s discriminatory treatment of non-union shops proves to be illegal, or the 93.7% of the private-sector work force that is non-union makes its political voice heard.