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Tesla Factory Announces Union Bid, Testing Elon Musk’s Very Public Contempt of Unions

Tesla employees in Buffalo, New York, announced their intentions to form a union on Tuesday, as first reported by Bloomberg. If the drive is successful, it would be the first union formed at the company, and would put a major spotlight on Elon Musk, who has been scrutinized for his management practices and aggressively resisted past unionization efforts. “We believe unionizing will give us a voice in our workplace that we feel has been ignored to this point,” Tesla Workers United wrote in a statement, and announced its plans to unionize with Workers United Upstate New York. “We are only asking for a seat in the car that we helped build.” 

The Buffalo Tesla factory makes solar panels and battery-charging equipment, per the Tesla website. The New York Times reported that the factory also employs roughly 800 people to work on driver-assistance software for Tesla’s cars and that the software workers initiated the union campaign. The workers are calling for better pay, job security, and want to curb some of Tesla’s monitoring practices, which they say makes some workers avoid even going to the bathroom, per Bloomberg. Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

If organizers can collect enough signatures from employees in favor of a union, their next move will involve filing an election petition—which requires an at least 30% sign-on from a given bargaining unit—with the National Labor Relations Board.

Tesla has a history of running afoul of the NLRB’s standards, including in 2022, when the board ruled that it had violated workers’ rights by barring employees from wearing shirts with pro-union insignia at the workplace. In past statements, Tesla CEO Musk has openly expressed his opposition to union organizing, including in 2018, when he seemingly threatened that employees would lose stock options if they unionized.

“Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union,” he wrote then. “Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?” The NLRB ordered Tesla to have Musk delete that tweet, but it appears he has yet to.

Last year, Musk seemingly dared the United Auto Workers to try to unionize Tesla shops. “I’d like hereby to invite UAW to hold a union vote at their convenience. Tesla will do nothing to stop them,” he tweeted in response to a thread on Tesla’s non-union status and the relocation of its headquarters to Texas, a so-called right-to-work state, which prohibits union-security agreements between employers and labor unions. His comments toward the UAW came after years of unsuccessful organizing attempts at Tesla’s massive facility in Fremont, California, which, along with the Buffalo factory, temporarily closed in 2020 after employee concerns about pandemic working conditions. The NLRB has also cited Tesla for firing an employee involved in union-organizing attempts. Tesla has yet to comment on the latest union drive in Buffalo.

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