UAW Sets Up Organizing Committee At Tesla Motors' Fremont Assembly Plant

TTAC Staff
by TTAC Staff
uaw sets up organizing committee at tesla motors fremont assembly plant

Workers at Tesla’s Fremont plant celebrate the 1,000th Model S body built, 2012.

United Auto Workers president Bob King has said that the labor union is interested in organizing Tesla’s assembly plant in Fremont, California and that a group of workers at the site have set up an organizing committee for the UAW. That factory is where Tesla assembles the battery powered Model S. Tesla has prided itself in being different from Detroit and its headquarters’ location, the Silicon Valley, is not exactly a labor hotbed.

While under King the autoworkers’ union has been more collaborative than confrontational with automakers, should the UAW organize Tesla that would undoubtedly affect the corporate culture at the EV startup. “Elon [Musk]’s attitude was always, ‘We’re going to Silicon Valley-ize the car business,’ ” Karl Brauer, with Kelley Blue Book told the “If he goes union, he’s going to take a huge step toward falling in line with the industry that he used to make fun of.”

It’s a testy subject. Despite King’s comments, when contacted by the San Francisco Chronicle, the UAW’s public relations director would not comment. Neither would Tesla, nor many of their employees. For Musk’s part he seems ambivalent. When Tesla purchased the Fremont facility from Toyota (which had formerly operated it with General Motors as the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (Nummi) plant) Musk said, “on the question of the union, we’re neutral.” However, Tesla Motors’ last annual financial report listed possible union activity under business “risks”: “The mere fact that our labor force could be unionized may harm our reputation in the eyes of some investors and thereby negatively affect our stock price. Additionally, the unionization of our labor force could increase our employee costs and decrease our profitability, both of which could adversely affect our business, prospects, financial condition and results of operations.”

In August, King told WardsAuto that Musk had repeated his neutral position at a meeting with union representatives, but that other Tesla executives were less open to the idea of an organized labor force. Musk, King said, was “very open and said he would respect what the workers wanted. But his operating management has done the opposite.”

Tesla’s Fremont plant is the only remaining car assembly plant on the West Coast. When it was called NUMMI, it employed 4,700 workers, most recently building Tacoma pickups and Corolla sedans. Current employment is estimated to be about 2,000, many of who are experienced autoworkers, having worked at the facility under prior management.

Employee reviews of Tesla posted online mention a fast pace and long hours. That’s typical of many Silicon Valley startups, which typically focus more on engineering than manufacturing. While work hours are a traditional wedge issue that labor unions use to rally workers onto their side, the frenetic pace in Silicon Valley is part of the culture there. “Engineering lends itself to a different style of self-starters, independent-minded people, survival of the fittest,” said Art Pulaski, head of the California Labor Federation labor union. “Manufacturing is different.”

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  • Ron B. Ron B. on Jan 07, 2014

    For those who honestly think the UAW is in favor of the worker,please study a little bit of history because the UAW is dooming the TESLA workers to repeat what happened in the UK and now Australia. To abide the "principle" UK workers were forced to join unions and those unions funded the UK labour party and here, the Australian Labor party. Under both ,thousands upon thousands of workers found that they could not eat that"principle" because they no longer had jobs. Simply because granting pay rise after pay rise without thinking about the one simple matter,being" who actually supplies the extra funds? " meant that the cost of doing business far outstripped the profits to be made. In the UK ,BLMC folded after years of mismanagement and union sabotage, dragging down it's Australian counterpart . In the USA the UAW control of GM has seen Australia's GMH run into the ground. Although it claims to be Australia's own car,it's sales ranked 19th.the cars being far too expensive and too badly built to be considered a good buy. So before condemning the owner of any company because he has a paper value of a billion dollars, think about what will happen when all are earning a huge sum (as in Australia) . here it is known as the politics of envy. A study of of the last labor led parliament will see speech fter speech made by the unfortunate leader,Julia Gillard condemning the "rich billionaires " ,although those same people are actually the only real employers in this country and whose efforts are keeping our debt ridden nation afloat right now. When everyone in the fevered imagination of the UAW bosses ,starts receiving massive wage rises, The cheap food and housing the USA enjoys Will become a thing of the past . As will many advantages you enjoy. This has been shown in history dozens of times,where those who perceived they were slaves or were being treated as slaves started to receive more money or food,became complacent and down right lazy,leading to a collapse of their societal structure. But the problem will be that a tiny proportion of the economy will be taking home a nice fat check every pay day while supporting the rest ,who will never have a full time job because their hourly rate cannot be supported by the income of their employer or company structure. In support of this,one only needs to look at the UK and Australia's massive unemployment figures. In both countries it is impossible to employ a person without incurring massive costs and burdensome paper work .

    • See 2 previous
    • Silverkris Silverkris on Jan 08, 2014

      @Pch101 Very good points. The production scale issue has always been a problem. The Button Plan of the 1980s was an attempt to rationalize the Australian motor industry by rationalization (cutting down the number of models offered) and scaling up those models to achieve better economies of scale - largely done by getting competiting marques to share models thru badge engineering. That didn't work out at all as the badge engineered model in all of the cases never sold as well as the original (e.g. Toyota Corolla becomes the Holden Nova). Currently, the high value of the AUD also limited the economic viability of exporting locally-made models to other markets as a means to achieve production scale.

  • Sweet Fancy Moses Sweet Fancy Moses on Jan 08, 2014

    I'm a unionized engineer working in the Canadian nuclear industry, so I'm not even going to hazard an opinion... That said, I take great comfort in being able to visit this site and enjoy the B&B conversations as much as the articles. ... the comments sections of ALL other sites simply induce rage. My honest thanks to all!

  • Keith Maybe my market's different. but 4.5k whack. Plus mods like his are just donations for the next owner. I'd consider driving it as a fun but practical yet disposable work/airport car if it was priced right. Some VAG's (yep, even Audis) are capable, long lasting reliable cars despite what the haters preach. I can't lie I've done the same as this guy: I had a decently clean 4 Runner V8 with about the same miles- I put it up for sale around the same price as the lower mile examples. I heard crickets chirp until I dropped the price. Folks just don't want NYC cab miles.
  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.