Out in California, a major fight seems to be brewing between Tesla Motors and the United Auto Workers.
Conservatives should be paying attention to this fight, because it involves two alleged “foes” of conservative policy and politics: the “green” energy industry and the UAW. In an era where a lot of self-described conservatives have been getting cozier with unions in an effort to emulate President Trump’s “connection” with blue-collar, working Americans, the bad guy in this story might not be the one you’re assuming.
UAW has long been trying to unionize Tesla’s manufacturing facilities. Both Tesla and a lot of its employees have resisted this. In the latest round of sniping, we now have Tesla CEO Elon Musk stating that “the UAW[’s] … true allegiance is to the giant car companies, where the money they take from employees in dues is vastly more than they could ever make from Tesla” and that “the tactics they have resorted to are disingenuous or outright false.” Those tactics include making claims of unsafe practices and injuries at the Tesla plant; the UAW has also been fingered by auto industry insiders for quietly pushing a narrative that discrimination is a problem at Tesla.
As much as conservatives may be habituated to looking askance at “green” industry titans like Musk, the truth appears to be on his side. Musk has successfully rebutted union-backed claims that Tesla is a slavedriver. He also compensates his employees well — as he argued, thanks to the company's employee stock scheme, over a four-year period Tesla workers "earned between $70,000 and $100,000 more in total compensation than the employees at other U.S. auto companies.”
And on safety, Tesla does seem to have a better record than the unionized automaker that previously occupied its facilities. The plant Tesla currently occupies was a union plant from at least 2003 until it closed. During that period, the facility had a worse incident rate of injury or illness than the industry average. In 2009, the plant had an incident rate of 9.09 compared the automaker industry rate of 7.3. In 2008, the rate was 10.84 compared to 6.8. In previous years, the trend was the same.
Musk now claims that the plant's recordable incident rate is less than 3.3. Maybe he's right, or maybe he's off by a bit, but the numbers from prior years at least give the lie to the idea that unionization would improve the plant's safety record.
And on compensation, the reality is the UAW is not coming to the debate with clean hands. Their concern is less one of pay for workers and more one of pay for their own bosses.
Tesla employees may be happy with a stock scheme that has that invested in the company and potentially growing wealth faster than they would with just a bump in cash compensation, something that presumably would be harder to maintain in a unionized environment.
But UAW officials just want more union members because more union members means more cash going into union bosses’ pockets. The UAW has at least 453 employees who take home a six-figure salary, according to one list, and someone's got to pay for that.
This is why the UAW uses intimidation to prevent members from quitting — not a promising sign for those considering joining. In 2016, it published the names of workers who opted to exercise their rights under the state's new right-to-work law. They also made it as difficult as possible to opt out — those wanting to quit the union must show up in person and provide identification. This from a union that vocally opposes voter ID and doesn’t even require an ID to vote in their own elections.
As for the discrimination claims that UAW is insinuating, Musk didn't address them. But a recent Employment Matters Counseling and Consulting investigation into claims of gender discrimination, harassment, and retaliation by Tesla found those claims unsubstantiated. Tesla has previously said that “in the history of Tesla, there has never been a single proven case of discrimination against the company. Not one.”
That’s a record that differs from most union shops. For example, 33 women are involved in a class action lawsuit against their UAW plant manager that goes back more than two decades. When these ladies filed complaints with the union about his behavior, they were either ignored or faced retribution for making the allegations. To date, the union's main contribution to this fight has been to protect the man under whose watch the gender discrimination happened.
The definition of “conservative” has changed somewhat in the age of Trump, with a president who has tried to forge an alliance with Big Labor. Increasingly, you hear conservatives nowadays echoing old-school labor talking points on free trade, immigration, corporate profits, and much more.
But conservatives need to pay attention to this Tesla-UAW fight to understand the dangers in this course. Sometimes, the Elon Musks of the world really aren't the bad guys, and the the entity claiming to be “a leader in the struggle to secure economic and social justice for all people” isn’t quite what it pretends.
Ben Howe is senior contributing editor at RedState.com.
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