Telsa parked outside the state Capitol building Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

Representatives from the United Auto Workers union joined Connecticut car dealers and a Democratic state senator Tuesday morning in opposition to legislation allowing the direct-to-consumer sales of certain high-end electric vehicles.

Sen. Julie Kushner, a Danbury Democrat who co-chairs the legislature’s labor committee, hosted a remote press conference opposing a bill that has stalled for years in the Connecticut legislature. It would provide electric-only auto manufacturers like Tesla, Rivian and Lucid an exemption to a state law requiring auto companies to sell their vehicles through franchise dealerships.

“I’m really a strong believer that we need to move to electric vehicles, and I think we’re doing that on many levels in the state, and I see the car manufacturers are moving in that direction as well,” Kushner said. “I don’t see the need to do a Tesla bill. I don’t see the need to advance Elon Musk, who is already, you know, ruler of the world.”

Kushner’s reference to Musk, CEO of Tesla, came on the heels of Monday news that the controversial billionaire had purchased the social media platform Twitter. 

But the stepped-up effort to defeat the bill creating an exemption for Tesla and other manufacturers could be seen as evidence the bill’s support has grown in the state Senate. Last year, it expired quietly on the Senate calendar at the end of session. 

Connecticut auto dealers have long opposed the legislation, arguing it is unfair to create a loophole for a set of competitors who choose not to follow state law. They joined Kushner Tuesday, along with a regional director of General Motors and local representatives of the UAW, an auto workers’ union that has clashed with Musk in other states

Brian Schneck, president of New York-based Local 259 UAW Region 9A, said there was nothing stopping Tesla and other electric-only manufacturers from selling their products in Connecticut.

“What’s the problem? We’ve seen many [Original Equipment Manufacturers] be extremely profitable, extremely good to consumers, put out very good products. So why should Tesla be treated differently?” Schneck said. “Why are the EV OEMs looking for a special exemption?”

As of Tuesday Democratic leaders in the Senate were not saying whether the bill would see a vote on the floor. Earlier this month, Senate President Martin Looney said the bill would be raised if proponent Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, reported adequate support for passage and then only if time permitted the debate. A spokesman said Tuesday that position had not changed.

Haskell has characterized the bill as making room for “businesses that desperately want to open up shop in Connecticut and create good-paying, green collar jobs.” Meanwhile, James Chen, vice president of public policy at Rivian, released a statement Tuesday urging Connecticut to embrace an open market business model.

“Rivian welcomes allowing Connecticut consumers to decide for themselves whether they wish to purchase their EV directly from a manufacturer or a franchised dealer,” Chen said. “We hope the legislature agrees.”

Although time is running short, Kushner worried the bill may be called in the next few days. She described the final days of the legislative session as “like a jigsaw puzzle,” with leaders trying to find time for competing priorities. The electric vehicle sales bill was “certainly under discussion.” 

Opportunities to run the bill are already limited. The legislative session will conclude next Wednesday at midnight. House leaders, meanwhile, told reporters during a Tuesday briefing they had not gauged support for the issue this year and would wait to see if the Senate passed the proposal before dedicating time to counting votes. 

Asked whether the union opposition would sway House Democrats, House Majority Leader Jason Rojas said it would depend on the lawmaker. 

“There are some people with whom that will resonate more. Others will say ‘Noted,’ and still make their own determination on whether to support the bill or not,” Rojas said.