Unions at Tesla? Come and hold a vote.
That’s the message from Elon Musk shared on his Twitter feed Wednesday, as the CEO unexpectedly declared that he would like to “hereby invite” the United Auto Workers union “to hold a union vote at their convenience.” Musk added that “Tesla will do nothing to stop them.”
It’s the latest in Tesla’s fractious relationship with trade unions, exemplified over the past year by court actions and the election of President Joe Biden. But Musk’s latest statement was not an endorsement of unions: he also noted that the Fremont facility is the largest auto plant in North America, where it built two-thirds of all electric vehicles in the continent.
“Our real challenge is Bay Area has negative unemployment, so if we don’t treat and compensate our (awesome) people well, they have many other offers and will just leave! I’d like hereby to invite UAW to hold a union vote at their convenience. Tesla will do nothing to stop them.”
The update comes as Tesla also faces legal action around racial discrimination at its factories.
Tesla and UAW: How we got here
The company purchased its Fremont factory from New United Motors Manufacturing Inc., or NUMMI, back in 2010. The plant used to host UAW workers building Toyota and General Motors vehicles. On Friday, Musk shared a YouTube clip of “UAW intimidation” at the NUMMI facility. In 2014, Tesla also bought the old UAW hall in Fremont.
In 2017, Tesla employee Jose Moran shared a Medium post calling on factory employees to form a union. He argued that employees are regularly injured and underpaid, adding that it feels like “a company of the future under working conditions of the past.”
At the time, Musk dismissed Moran as “paid by the UAW.” In 2018, the National Labor Relations Board claimed that Musk “impliedly promised to remedy their safety complaints if they refrained from their union organizational activity.”
Following President Biden’s election in 2020, Tesla’s union relationship came under the spotlight. The president’s Build Back Better bill would offer up to $12,500 in tax credits for an electric car purchase, as long as the car was made in the U.S. at a unionized factory.
In March 2021, Musk was ordered to delete a 2018 post that said there was “nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union,” but added, “why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?” The National Labor Relations Board ruled that Tesla broke labor laws on a number of occasions.
Tesla was not invited to a February White House meeting attended by three employers of UAW members. White House secretary Jen Psaki invited reporters to “draw your own conclusion.”
That same month, two new lawsuits alleged racial discrimination at the Fremont facility. The Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed a lawsuit alleging “many complaints of rampant racism unchecked for years,” following a three-year investigation. Tesla dismissed the “narrative spun” as “not factual proof.”
A lawsuit from ex-employee Marc Cage also claimed he was subject to racist discrimination and fired for reporting safety violations.
Beyond a potential UAW vote, the lawsuits mean Tesla’s treatment of employees is likely to remain under the spotlight for some time.