West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin – whose state’s banner industry, coal mining, has been largely unionized and been central to the US labor movement since soon after its inception – today called the proposed $4,500 union-made EV tax credit “wrong” and “not American.”

The $4,500 union-made EV credit is a portion of the proposed $12,500 federal EV tax credit, part of the pending Build Back Better act, which updates and expands on the current $7,500 federal EV tax credit available to EV purchasers.

Manchin’s comments came at an event at Toyota’s West Virginia components plant, announcing a new $240 million investment into the plant where the company produces gas engines and transmissions. Toyota said today that it plans to build a hybrid transaxle in the plant, but did not commit to building pure electric vehicle components. Notably, Toyota was named the world’s third-worst company in terms of climate lobbying just last week as a result of its anti-EV lobbying efforts.

At the event, Manchin made a number of comments regarding the proposed EV credit that seem incongruous with reality. He stated that “we shouldn’t use everyone’s tax dollars to pick winners and losers,” a common talking point used to oppose government intervention in competitive environments. Toyota Motor North America CEO Ted Ogawa echoed these remarks by saying the company merely wants “to compete on an equal, level playing field with all automakers.”

However, the Build Back Better Act’s union-made EV provision does not specify particular companies, merely that those companies must be covered with a collective bargaining agreement. This does not exclude Toyota or any other automaker – all it needs to do is unionize (Toyota has built union-made cars in America before) and its cars will get the credit just like any other car company would. Nobody is stopping Toyota’s cars from qualifying for union-made EV credits except Toyota itself.

As for opposing “picking winners and losers,” here is a list of winners picked by Manchin and posted on his website three weeks ago. The Tygart Hotel in Elkins and local investors Davis Trust Company, Freedom Bank, Pendleton Community Bank, and Woodlands Development and Lending surely appreciate that you picked them to win $1.75 million in tax dollars for their for-profit private venture just last month, Joe. Or have you had a change in heart on public appropriations since then?

Not to mention the trillions in subsidies that fossil fuels get globally – which power Toyota’s vehicles, and which Manchin personally profits from (more on that later). Manchin is on record opposing one of the best ways to remove that subsidy – forcing carbon polluters to pay for the damage they do. Pricing pollution would “level the playing field,” so that polluters would no longer gain an economic benefit from freely offloading their costs on others.

Manchin also said that the union-made requirement is “not how we built this country,” despite the current two most unionized sectors of the US economy being government and construction jobs.

Unions also built Manchin’s state, West Virginia. Coal mining has been a banner industry, a keystone to West Virginia’s economy for more than a century, and West Virginia coal miners were among the earliest advocates for labor organization in the United States. Coal mining is an exceedingly dangerous job, rife with both acute and chronic difficulties for workers, and coal barons have a tendency not to respect their workers when given the option – recall when Bob Murray paid for science denial instead of his workers’ wages as his company went bankrupt.

For much of the 20th century, the middle class in West Virginia was buoyed by well-paying union coal jobs. Those jobs were well-paying due to the blood, sweat, and tears of union agitators who earned concessions from an industry that would have loved to continue treating them like indentured servants.

Manchin states that his opposition to the union-made requirement means he’s “fighting for his constituents,” but his constituents have benefitted from unions for a very long time and would benefit from higher unionization rates. They would also benefit from cheaper electric vehicle availability and from cleaner air due to faster EV adoption.

Meanwhile, there is no way in which the union-made requirement damages Manchin’s constituents. Toyota does not build non-union EVs in West Virginia (they build engines and transmissions – and it’s the only automotive assembly plant in the state), so nobody purchasing a West Virginia vehicle will “miss out” on these credits due to the union-made requirement.

What has damaged his constituents are the actions of the fossil industry, which is always trying to reduce worker safety and pay, and the prime bulwark against these efforts are worker unions.

But despite all the facts showing otherwise, Manchin still says that a provision that will help his constituents and his country is “not American.” Why is this? A possible explanation is that Manchin is heavily invested in fossil fuels, earning roughly half a million dollars personally every year from coal dividends (placing him in the company of the very same coal barons who oppose unionization). He is also the top Congressional recipient of fossil fuel money. In the words of famous labor advocate Upton Sinclair: “it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Even though this article focuses on one man’s comments, it should be noted that Manchin is not the only anti-worker, anti-environment Senator holding up this bill. All fifty republicans are assumed to be automatic “nay” votes to any effort made to improve the American economy and environment, in typical republican party fashion.

Despite that those republican Senators have collectively received 28 million fewer votes than the Democratic Senators who support these investments into America, Senator Manchin (290k votes, <.1% of the US population) has cast himself into the position of sole decider on a bill whose provisions are overwhelmingly supported both by Americans and by Manchin’s constituents. In a country where we claim that all people should receive equal representation, one would think that such broad public and electoral support for an initiative should indicate that it sail towards passage.

There’s certainly something “not American” going on here, but that “something” is not the $4,500 EV credit. It’s a set of minority representatives holding up a bill that is supported by and will benefit the vast majority of this country. It’s a can’t-do attitude of government inaction, driven by conservative attempts to damage the American economy with the hope that by hurting America they can electioneer their way into making the majority party look bad. It’s the constant work over the last century that conservative politicians and business leaders have done to delegitimize unions leading to lower union membership, lower real wages, and the erosion of the American middle class.

Those are the things that are “wrong,” here, Joe – not the EV tax credit. Now get out of your constituents’ way and vote for the right thing. Or if you instead support giving $4,500 to all EVs rather than just union-made ones, then say that, instead of continuing to throw cold water on a crucial bill while pandering to anti-worker sentiment.

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About the Author

Jameson Dow

Jameson has been driving electric vehicles since 2009, and has been writing about them and about clean energy for electrek.co since 2016.

You can contact him at jamie@electrek.co