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IG Metall brochures in English and German for Tesla employees

Tesla, Inc. is an American electric car manufacturer which as of January 2024 employs over 140,000 workers across its global operations, [1] almost none of whom are unionized. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has commented negatively on trade unions in relation to Tesla. Despite allegations of high injury rates, long hours, and below-industry pay, efforts to unionize the workforce have been largely unsuccessful. As of May 2024, there are active labor disputes with Tesla in the United States, Germany and Sweden.

Tesla is the only major American auto manufacturer not represented by a union in the US as of January 2024. [2] [3] None of the unionization attempts between 2016–2023 by United Auto Workers (UAW), [4] United Steelworkers (USW), International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), [5] and Workers United [6] were successful. Complaints were filed against Tesla in all the campaigns for retaliation firings, but only one complaint was upheld.

In Germany, Tesla and Tesla Automation's non-union status and lower wages compared to industry standards weakens the power of the metalworkers' union IG Metall. Tesla concluded a pay-related works agreement with Tesla Automation's Works Council, while refusing to sign a collective agreement with IG Metall. In January 2023, IG Metall called for an investigation into Tesla over allegations of long working hours and forced non-disclosure agreements.

United States

In 2010, Tesla acquired the formerly unionized NUMMI plant in Fremont, California, which became the Tesla Fremont Factory. [7] [8] In the fall of 2016, Jose Moran, a Tesla Fremont Factory employee, contacted the UAW, going public with a "Fair Future at Tesla" campaign in February 2017, citing high injury rates, long hours and below industry pay as motivations. [4] In 2016, the UAW also indicated its interest in unionizing Tesla, [9] spending over US$400,000 by 2018 on organizing, campaigning and filing National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) complaints. [7] In October 2017, Tesla fired Richard Ortiz who was organizing [10] (alongside Moran, one of the union organizers), [4] which the NLRB later ruled to be illegal retaliation. [10]

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.

Elon Musk, (3 March 2022) [11]

In 2018, CEO Elon Musk tweeted "Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? ... ". [12] Musk was ordered to delete that tweet (which implied workers would lose stocks if they formed a union), and offer Ortiz his job back with back pay. [13] [14] Additionally Tesla would have to put up a notice in all of its US factories addressing the unlawful tweet. [15] The case was appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, which in 2023 affirmed the NRLB's order. [16] [17]

In March 2022 Musk invited the UAW union to hold a vote at their convenience. [18] UAW president Ray Curry responded that Tesla should recognize it broke the law if it was serious about supporting organizing. [19]

Later, in June 2022, a CNBC report found that Tesla paid public relations firm MikeWorldWide to monitor a Tesla employee Facebook group and to conduct research on Tesla union organizers on social media from 2017 to 2018. MikeWorldWide monitored discussions on social networks alleging unfair labor practices at Tesla and monitored discussions on a sexual harassment lawsuit. Former and current Tesla employees told CNBC that they believed the company continued to monitor its workers on social media as of 2022. [20]

Giga New York

In December 2018, 300 workers at the solar panel factory at Gigafactory New York in Buffalo, New York, announced a unionization drive with the support of USW and IBEW unions. [5] The USW filed a complaint with the NLRB in June 2019, alleging that Tesla illegally surveilled and fired 6 workers in retaliation, [21] but the case was withdrawn in August 2019. [22]

In February 2023, workers at Gigafactory New York in Buffalo involved with labeling data for Tesla Autopilot announced a unionization effort with Workers United. [6] Workers United is affiliated with Service Employees International Union. Workers United successfully led the union drive at a Starbucks store six miles away in Buffalo. [23] [24] [25] A day after the announcement, a complaint was lodged with the NLRB against Tesla for allegedly firing over 18 employees who participated in the Workers United organization. [26] [27] In November, the NLRB dismissed the illegal firing complaint, but found merit in the other complaints around workplace surveillance and discussing with workers their opinion on unions. [28]

Pursuant to allegations raised by Workers United, the NLRB regional director in Buffalo, New York filed a complaint with the national board in April 2024 alleging that Tesla had implemented company policies to prevent workers at its Buffalo plant from unionizing in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. [29]

Germany

Tesla is one of the few auto manufacturers in Germany that have not signed any company collective agreements, nor joined the Metal and Electronics Industry (" Gesamtmetall [ de]") Employer Association as of 2021. [30] Electric vehicle production requires 30 percent fewer workers than traditional combustion-engine vehicles. [30] As a result, a non-unionized Tesla weakens IG Metall's bargaining power in the overall automotive sector in Germany due to fewer union members and a higher labor supply. [30]

Tesla Automation

In January 2017, Tesla acquired Grohmann Engineering (now Tesla Automation). IG Metall and the Works Council Chair Uwe Herzig of Grohmann Engineering stated that wages under Tesla were 25‒30 percent below the Metal Industry collective agreements. Employees expressed concern after former CEO Klaus Grohmann was ousted and business contracts with other firms were cancelled. [31]

In October 2017, management and the Works Council concluded a works agreement that set employee salaries on par with the Metal Industry trade union collective agreements without explicitly signing them. IG Metall still pushed for formal ratification; however, it indicated there have been "good negotiation results", crediting threats of strikes and internal pressure to bolster such agreements. [32]

In early 2023, IG Metall threatened to go on strike if Tesla did not start negotiating with them and the Grohmann Engineering Works Council.[ citation needed]

Giga Berlin

IG Metall office at the train station adjacent to the Tesla Factory

According to IG Metall, in October 2021, Tesla was offering employees at the new Giga Berlin facility in Grünheide wages 20 percent below the collective agreement standards provided at other automotive facilities in Germany. [33] [34]

In November 2021, seven non-union employees of Giga Berlin initiated the process of establishing a Works Council. IG Metall expressed a concern about the future Works Council being dominated by management, as only earlier employees would be eligible to run as candidates (due to the 6-month tenure requirement) and the majority of the first 1,800 hires were middle–management personnel. In total, Tesla planned to hire 12,000 employees. If the number of employees were to double in a short time period, the next Works Council election would be two years later instead of the usual four. [35] [36] In March 2022, employees voted in a Works Council. Nearly half of the votes went to the manager-friendly "Gigavoice" list. [37]

In January 2023, IG Metall called for an investigation after stating that workers had called the organization to report that they were being made to work longer hours, with less time between shifts. IG Metall also stated that workers were being forced to sign non-disclosure agreements alongside their regular work contracts and were therefore afraid of retribution if they openly discussed their work conditions. [38] [39] [40]

The second Works Council election at Tesla Giga Berlin for 39 seats was initially scheduled for March 18-20, 2024; however IG Metall petitioned the Frankfurt (Oder) Labour Court [ de] to file a preliminary injunction against the electoral board’s proposed timeline. [41] The original timeline set a deadline for candidate nominations by February 15. Given that Tesla factory production was suspended earlier for a month until February 11 due to supply chain disruptions by the Houthi militia in the Red Sea, this would have left most Tesla employees with only several workdays to collect 50 candidate signatures. [41] The Berlin-Brandenburg State Labour Court [ de] overruled the lower court, keeping the original Works Council election date. [42]

On March 20, the second Works Council election concluded. 234 candidates from 9 different lists ran. With 39% of the vote the IG Metall list won the plurality of seats, with 16 out of 39. The remaining 23 seats were split between 4 different non-union lists. [42] [43]

Nordic countries

On October 27, 2023, IF Metall, a Swedish trade union, initiated a strike against TM Sweden, a Tesla vehicle service subsidiary, over the company's refusal to sign a collective agreement. [44] As of May 2024, the ongoing strike is the longest ever in Sweden within the past 80 years. Strikes are incredibly rare under the "Swedish model" of social partnership, which was codified in the 1938 Saltsjöbaden Agreement. [45]

Tesla employs 120 employees in Sweden. [46] The strike, initially affecting mechanics at ten workshops servicing Tesla vehicles, later expanded to include other facilities servicing various car brands. While workers continued with regular tasks, they refrained from servicing Tesla vehicles during the strike. [47] At some point, unidentified individuals suspected to be strikebreakers arrived at Tesla service centers, prompting concerns about their impact on the labor dispute. [48] Other Swedish trade unions later joined through sympathy (solidarity) strikes, which are legal in Sweden. [46] The Swedish Transport Workers' Union blocked the loading and unloading of Tesla cars, [49] [50] while dockworkers, electricians, and postal workers halted services to Tesla. Musk has reportedly instructed TM Sweden to sign no collective agreements. [51]

Over the next few months, union support for the Swedish campaign expanded to other Nordic countries, with unions in Denmark, [52] Norway [53] and Finland [54] joining the Tesla strike. The strike also led to the pension fund PensionDanmark [ da] selling its stake in Tesla's stock in protest. [55] In response to the escalation, Tesla posted a job opening for a Swedish government affairs specialist with “significant experience with Nordic legislative and regulatory advocacy," presumably to help with lobbying efforts. [55]

In February 2024, the Swedish Union for Service and Communications Employees expanded the strike to include maintenance and installation of Tesla charging stations. [56] Also in February, the Swedish National Mediation Office [ sv] statistics showed that only a third of the 130 Tesla mechanics in Sweden had joined the strike. [56] [45]

See also

References

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External links