By on February 11, 2017

Elon Musk + Tesla Model S Circa 2011

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk knows a unionized workforce would add another variable to his lofty, carefully crafted production plans, and an unpredictable one at that: labor strife.

Until now, the electric automaker’s top boss has fended off the possibility in a progressive-sounding way, but a simmering unionization movement, which reared its head this week, shows no signs of abating. Since the appearance of a scathing blog post written by a Tesla assembly plant worker, Musk has found himself on the defensive. A paid union agitator, Musk claimed, wrote the post to rile employees. Then the UAW jumped into the fray.

Now, it’s one big battle. Musk likely wishes a recently introduced bill to amend the National Labor Relations Act was on his side.

Yesterday, the worker who penned the blog post was identified as 43-year-old Jose Moran, a production associate at Tesla’s Fremont, California assembly plant. Moran has worked for Tesla since 2012. His concerns, not surprisingly, fall along the lines of pay, working hours and safety.

While Musk called the post “morally outrageous” and accused Moran of being a paid agitator, the UAW quickly countered the claim. Moran was not being paid by the UAW, the autoworkers union stated, but added, “We can confirm that Mr. Moran and others at Tesla have approached the UAW, and we welcome them with open arms.”

Moran has created a Facebook page for his organizing committee, titled A Fair Future at Tesla, where he explains his motivations. By all accounts, Moran’s voice is being welcomed by at least some measure of Tesla employees. However, dissenters remain, among them Musk, who told Gizmodo the UAW was behind the failure of Fremont’s first tenant — the New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated venture.

“The UAW killed [Toyota-GM joint venture NUMMI] and abandoned the workers at our Fremont plant in 2010,” Musk said. “They have no leg to stand on.”

Hey, not so fast, said Maryann Keller, principal at auto industry consultancy Maryann Keller & Associates and author of a book on the NUMMI saga. In a LinkedIn post, Keller refutes Musk’s claim that UAW involvement sank the joint venture:

The workforce at NUMMI– even organized by the UAW – was not the problem. Over time, GM took less and less of NUMMI production and by the 2000’s had effectively withdrawn from NUMMI. By then, Toyota assembly and supplier capacity was concentrated nearly two thousand miles away in lower cost locales. NUMMI became an isolated outpost that had lost its relevance to the two partners.

In the background of the newfound unionization push at Tesla, a bill introduced in Congress by Steve King (R-IA) holds relevance to the situation — at least, Musk’s grasp of the situation.

The Truth in Employment Act 2017, introduced on January 30th, seeks to amend the National Labor Relations Act to protect the employer from employees who join a company with the sole intention of organizing that company’s workforce. (H/T to former TTAC EIC Ed Niedermeyer for uncovering the proposed legislation.)

The bill preserves the rights of workers to organize, but seeks to “alleviate pressure on employers to hire individuals who seek or gain employment in order to disrupt the workplace of the employer or otherwise inflict economic harm designed to put the employer out of business.”

As written, the bill would amend the labor act to include the following: “Nothing in this subsection shall be construed as requiring an employer to employ any person who seeks or has sought employment with the employer in furtherance of other employment or agency status.”

Had Moran joined Tesla with the intention of organizing the workforce, the bill — if passed — would give Musk a legislative leg to stand on. However, Moran’s four-and-a-half years on the production floor tells a different story.

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59 Comments on “Tesla, the Worker, the Union, and the Bill That Can’t Help Elon Musk...”


  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    Caddy Daddy shall give you the low down: Musk does not have the financial horsepower to locate his plant in a “right to work” state. Thus, he has to work within the confines of the California system to keep the plant economically viable in Fremont.

    The way to keep producing cars at Fremont is to start the process of importing massive amounts of H1B visa employees to work on the factory floor. Any talk of UAW organizing and Musk’s Pinkertons will have you on the next plane to Malaysia or Hyberdabad.

    Private sector unions have zero pull in Sacramento, the immigration attorneys making $6,000 a pop per H1B application practiallly own the state house. It’s a very tidy win win situation for the power brokers in CA. No so much for the American Worker who is just a statistic in building their brave new world.

    If this is challenged, have no fear, the 9th Circuit judge has already been shopped, vettted and the legal opinion already written.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      you can’t use H1B visas for factory (unskilled) labor.

      • 0 avatar
        CaddyDaddy

        Like rules or statute language matter to the 9th Curcuit. ……and who says factory work is unskilled, as long as the lawyers argue that the result of the factory closing will cause economic harm to the state, the court will over rule and determine that all labor requires skill.

      • 0 avatar
        jacob_coulter

        You’re also not supposed to use the visa program to fill jobs without first making an effort to fill it with American workers.

        Ask former employees of Disney how that worked out.

        The laws are being flagrantly ignored.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      @caddydaddy: Partial relocation to a right-to-work state is already happening. The motor and drivetrain production for the Model 3 will be done at the gigafactory. I could see other component production eventually moving to Nevada over time.

      New battery electrode manufacturing technology that requires less physical space is making progress and could reduce the space needed to manufacture batteries. That could free up space at the gigafactory for auto parts production. There’s also a strong possibility they could just add on to the gigafactory.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      I never read a comment from someone who refers to themselves in the third person. It’s creepy, and I am certain the comment won’t be worth my time.

    • 0 avatar
      SirRaoulDuke

      That would not be wise in the current political climate.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        “That would not be wise in the current political climate.”

        Trump hardly has the mandate of the people, so challenging him is pretty safe.

        What’s he gonna do? Try to hurt my feelings hurt making some petty quip on Twitter? I usually face down nastier trolls than him before breakfast.

        And, yes, the court’s slap-down Trump’s immigration order is thurougly consistent with the values of *my* America.

  • avatar
    sirwired

    Yeah, as soon as I saw that claim by Musk, my B.S. alarm went off. It was a plant more-or-less abandoned by GM (the GM product it produced at the end was the Pontiac Vibe, which went away when Pontiac did), and Toyota had no need for it in the middle of the Great Recession (they may be sorry about giving up that Tacoma line by now though…)

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Agreed.

      The NUMMI story is far more insightful than Musk’s naieve comment about the UAW.

      Here’s a pretty good summary, if you’ve got an hour to listen to a radio dramatization:
      https://m.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/561/nummi-2015

      The summary is that the corporate/employee culture of GM killed the plant the first time through. The corporate/employee culture of Toyota was much better, but the great recession killed the need for the plant the second time through. And now, with Tesla building cars there, the story is still being written — but I suspect the robots will perform as programmed, regardless of the corporate/employee culture.

      Culture eats strategy for breakfast, regardless of how the employees negotiate their salaries.

  • avatar
    Rday

    aLot of the information presented is correct. However the main reason that TOyota pulled the plug on NUmmi was that Toyota refuses to deal with the UAW or as Toyota said ‘Toyota wants to run their plants themselves’ and not let the UAW take over as they have done with the Detroit Idiots. I also think that once one of their plants becomes unionized by the UAW, it makes it easier for the UAW to make the case that they should be able to organize the other Toyota plants. THis is not acceptable at all to Toyota and the other Japanese manufacturers

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      Toyota, Honda, and Nissan are all very careful to put their plants in areas where unions are not very strong. Typically a rural area of a right-to-work state. Abandoned factories in urban areas where unions are strong might as well be as radioactive as Chernobyl.

      • 0 avatar
        RRocket

        Not true. Both Toyota and Honda have plants in Ontario, where the CAW is extremely militant…to the point where a couple of companies have avoided invested there fur that very reason.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        Which is why Honda’s first North American plant was in Ohio, right? Because nobody had union plants there. Especially not Lima, Lordstown, Avon Lake, Lorain, Cleveland, etc…

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Have any car final assembly factories in the US failed that weren’t organized since 1929? Westmoreland, Daimond-star, NUMMI: what is it they had in common that separated them from all the successful plants that still build BMWs, Hondas, Hyundais, Mercedes-Benz, Nissans, and Toyotas? Hmm…

      This is the sort of news item that I love: two incredibly nasty elements of fascism feeding on one another. I don’t have a dog in this fight, so hopefully they’ll both come out of it mortally wounded.

  • avatar
    CarDesigner

    Funny how a Dem-controlled state can keep unions out…

  • avatar
    Von

    There was a time when the unions served a noble and necessary purpose, when factory owners did not have to contend with safety regulations, environmental regulations, and employed thugs to keep the workforce in line. Those days are long past.

    Unions are still doing good things for workers today, but it’s way out of balance and choking businesses to a halt.

  • avatar
    Asdf

    Due to Tesla’s repeated failures to bring to the market a BEV that is competitive with an ICE-powered car with regards to range, charging time and price, Tesla has amply demonstrated that the BEV has no future, which means that Tesla itself has no future and will go bankrupt in a few years. The remains will predictably be purchased by a Chinese company, which will take whatever valuable technology is left with it back to China. There will be no jobs left in the US.

    The complaining workers should therefore stop wasting time arguing with this Elon Musk guy, and start looking for a new employer. That’s the responsible thing to do.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Due to Asdf’s repeated failures to bring to the comments a posting that is useful with regards to facts, logic or common sense, Asdf’s trolling has amply demonstrated that it has no value, which means that Asdf himself has no future and will go bankrupt in a few years.

  • avatar
    andrethx

    This law doesn’t appear to prevent employers from hiring union-busters, so it appears to be part of the republican party’s longstanding war on organized labor.

    • 0 avatar
      CarDesigner

      The UAW was an important force in getting a standard 40 hour work week, 2 weeks vacation, healthcare, and a good pensions. For 30 years everyone thought this was good thing and copied it. Car companies were considered good corporate citizens. Then the Japanese come in with their socialized system, at substantially less cost for labor and everyone thinks the unions are greedy and the companies are dolts, especially Congress in 2007 hearings. Meanwhile, tax and government policies encourage offshoring jobs due to cheaper labor. That impacts real jobs here!
      No one calculated the actual legacy costs or anticipated the meteoric rise of health care costs. Now, you have a reduction in wages, despite the increased demand for education and skills, all at less money.
      Many of the education unions are bankrupting state education funding for lavish pensions and healthcare benefits. Money for student ed is being drained to fund these. The NEA and locally MEA are adamant that pensions come before students. At what point does someone say: Stop the insanity?

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        People who entered our educational institutions without solid values and character are more likely to focus on obviating the meaning of the word insanity than they are likely to recognize the direct correlation between the rise of the teachers’ unions and the collapse of our students’ achievements.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          you must be incredibly wealthy given your expertise on economics, labor relations, medicine, education, domestic and foreign policy, engineering, and manufacturing.

          oh wait, you’re just regurgitating what you read on breitbart.

        • 0 avatar
          golden2husky

          …recognize the direct correlation between the rise of the teachers’ unions and the collapse of our students’ achievements….

          Seriously, where do you get these alternative facts?

          Now for some data: My friend works for a software company that maintains the database for school performance in regards to the grades the students receive on standardized tests and some other academic measurements. This is on Long Island, NY. My friend can access this from the remote desktop at home. I asked to check my old HS (SD #2) and found the pass rate to be near 100%, with most grades all hovering in the upper 80s through the mid 90s. I asked my friend to check Mineola HS (a solid blue collar neighborhood) and the pass rate was far less, and even those who passed did so at a much lower rate. I checked dozens of schools, and found the divide was centered around one thing: Money. The wealthy areas all performed at the very top and the less wealthy slid to mid pack. The poorest schools had the worst pass rate and the highest number of students retaking the test. All of these students are taught by members of the UFT. So I ask the question: How is it the teacher’s fault that kids might come from homes where the parents (or parent) doesn’t care? Or does care but is working three jobs to survive (you know, that “uniquely American” thing as said by GW Bush) and loses focus on their child’s performance? I certainly won’t disagree that it seems the UFT seems to be too focused on members and not kids, but to make the correlation that unionism = poor student performance is pure horse crap.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            golden2husky – agreed.
            Education is tied to the amount of effort parents put into their children. Wealth, especially among the middle class is tied to post secondary education. That would be skilled trades or degrees. They know the value of education and will work hard to see their children do well.

            Unfortunately, too many people seek to impose a doctrine in all circumstances without regard to practical considerations.
            The USA is failing in so many areas because there needs to be a pragmatic focus on what needs to be done to improve education and opportunity for its populace. That needs to be bipartisan.
            The pendulum swings far left or far right with the opposite side focused on undoing what the other side has done politically. Until both sides figure out that a society is most stable somewhere in the middle, we will continue to see things go unchanged.

            Blaming everything on unions is rather myopic. As pointed out, we don’t tend to see problems with unions at employers that take a holistic approach. Those companies know that unionized or not, a good working relationship with its workers is beneficial to the company.

          • 0 avatar
            CarDesigner

            Funny thing, historically, most immigrant groups were thrilled to have free public education. They expected their children to do well with the opportunities, that they never had. Even 1st gen kids knew this. They also respected adults, and those older than them. How many 2nd gen kids were the first to complete high school and even go onto college? Everyone recognized that the key to success was education- not tennis shoes and t-shirts. r which pop star/musician/celebrity/athlete du jour, was hot. The bulk of the chronically poor now, do not value education as much as short term gratification. There is a culture problem in this country, exacerbated by the education system methodology.

          • 0 avatar
            Exfordtech

            Sadly your well reasoned response cannot be condensed into 140 characters or less. It is beyond the reading comprehension skills of the average Breitbart devotee. I fear for this nation’s future.

        • 0 avatar
          OldManPants

          “obviating the meaning of the word”

          Oh, Toddie-Poo, that’s a silly misuse of “obviate” and you needn’t keep pretending that you were ever inside “our educational institutions”.

          <3 I'll protect you! <3

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    Politics is a core function and capital facility for Musk businesses; I am surprised Musk escaped any serious pressure from organized labor for long as he has. The real jewel of his operations is SpaceX, and the machinists’ union and pipe-fitters etc. could show up there any day as well, especially all over the government co-op facilities and payload contracts SpaceX depends on.

    Another interesting angle here is internalized showdown of lefty/Democrat politics between Midwest-model old labor political machine and eco-tech modern left of the coasts. Chamber-of-Commerce Republicans really don’t have a constituency in the Tesla-UAW fight, but Trumpers do – for the UAW.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    Unions are poison. That may not have been the case in the past, but n this day and age, unions do nothing but help outsource work/jobs.

    • 0 avatar

      middle skill and low skill wages seem directly related to union participation. So to a large portion of the population they are pretty important.

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      Don’t get on a commercial airplane, White Shadow – you’ll get poisoned by the union pilot keeping the rest of us alive.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      “Unions are poison. That may not have been the case in the past, but n this day and age, unions do nothing but help outsource work/jobs.”

      There needs to be a balance. If we see power swings too far one way or the other then it then causes problems. The UAW executive and their policies was part of the problem with the decline of the auto industry. One can say exactly the same thing for the executives running the domestic auto industry. Sh!tty leaders on both sides focused more on their own power and prestige lead to the problems we have seen.
      Most jobs have been lost due to automation. Even in China, we are seeing job loss due to automation and they aren’t unionized. at least 85% of lost jobs have been due to automation NOT outsourcing/offshoring.

      We have seen a decline in unionized workforce not because unions are poison but because there are less traditionally unionized jobs available. Unskilled jobs have traditionally been the domain of unions.

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      @whiteshadow: poison to who? Incompetent managers? Companies looking to operate illegally? Organizations that ignore safety laws?

      As we say in industrial relations “you get the union that you deserve”.

      • 0 avatar
        CarDesigner

        Arthur D – As we say in industrial relations “You get the union that you deserve”.

        That has been and STILL is so true! On the other hand, the teacher unions seem to have little understanding on how the rest of the world works…

      • 0 avatar
        White Shadow

        “…poison to who?”

        Poison to everyone affected. Consider unions in manufacturing jobs. What good do they really do? I’ve worked on both sides of the fence and I can say that unions are poison to both sides. For the unskilled worker, unions are only advantageous if you are lazy or incompetent. And if you’re one of the solid workers who excels, then you grown to hate unions because the deadbeats make the same money as you and spend all day trying to avoid work as much as possible.

        Manager and companies are poisoned by unions because they can’t as easily get rid of the deadbeats. So in the end, the company is less efficient because they are carrying the deadbeats, all while their good workers grow increasingly frustrated that they are more needed than ever to take on the additional workload.

        Customers are poisoned by unions because the inefficiencies already mentioned drive up the cost of products. Yes, the bottom line is absolutely affected by unions. I could go on and on about this, but I won’t. Suffice to say that it’s a lose-lose-lose situation for everyone.

      • 0 avatar
        White Shadow

        BTW, you don’t need unions for organizations that ignore safety laws. We have OSHA for that. Companies that operate illegally? They won’t survive long in the information. This isn’t the ’70s.

    • 0 avatar
      OldManPants

      “Unions are poison.”

      Pretty weak poison given the mobility of tech, elites and capital.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    I mentioned this on the previous Tesla story but didn’t get any feedback.
    Does anyone know if Tesla Fremont hired any previous UAW folks from the NUMMI era?
    Or did they screen them out in the hiring process?

    Regardless of UAW organizing, Musk surely knows that the coming California $15/hour min wage is going to impact him. Who is going to bust their butt building cars on an assembly line for a couple dollars more compared with slinging burgers or pushing a broom?

    • 0 avatar
      sti2m3

      Yes, of course there are former UAW workers who now work at Tesla…but most likely not as assembly line workers.

      NUMMI was around for 25 years – so during that time, there were many who were former UAW workers who got promoted to management due to their hard work and dedication.

      These people could work at Tesla now as management.

      In the same vain, I’m sure there are people who were UAW members who got hired at Tesla as management due to their exceptional skills and abilities.

      What Elon Musk does not understand is that assembling cars is hard work.

      If/when machine/robot breaks, in order to make production schedule, people have to do a lot of stuff manually or think how to do thinks differently.

      At NUMMI, people pulled together and got things done.

      But in the old GM days, good luck.

      Rattling doors = beer cans.

      Drug dealing on the assembly line.

      This was normal before.

      These same workers came around and became the most efficient and productive quality producing plant in the US.

      Because we’ve heard it before – if management doesn’t care about people and only about hitting targets, they will make people do things that are not safe or reckless just to hit targets.

      This reduces moral, which makes it easier for workers to “have a spontaneous back ache” and get a doctor to back them up instead of waking up to a back breaking job that makes you wonder if you’re going to make it until the next day.

      I heard about these stories from the old GM guys at the NUMMI plant – I didn’t think I’d hear them again…and now with less pay with the COL in California?

      I’m pretty sure the UAW is licking their chops.

      Oh and if they close down the shop?

      Elon Musk/Tesla is now responsible for a couple of billion dollar clean up of the toxic wastes that was built up from the GM days.

      Guess why Toyota gave the factory away for chump change?

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    “The living wage in Alameda county, where we work, is more than $28 an hour for an adult and one child (I have two)”

    Sorry Jose, but you’ve pointed out the obvious reason why nobody locates a start-up car factory in California these days.

  • avatar
    CarDesigner

    Luke42-
    “I’ve seen plenty of Tesla cars in the wild. I’d hardly call them vaporware.”

    Like taking $1000 “down payments”, for a car to be built at at an undisclosed time in the future, maybe in 2, 3, or 4 years? All based on their launch track record. Nice try, but NO cigar!

    • 0 avatar
      VoGo

      I think you’re just jealous, cardesigner. Those of us who got in early with deposits can always re-sell our Tesla 3s at a premium, or just get our deposit back at any time.

      But thanks for your concern?

      • 0 avatar
        OldManPants

        You should have seen the cars *I* designed in elementary school.

        Funny, they all ended up with lakers and Plymouth discs. I drew great Plymouth discs… shimmer and everything!

      • 0 avatar
        CarDesigner

        “I think you’re just jealous, cardesigner. Those of us who got in early with deposits can always re-sell our Tesla 3s at a premium, or just get our deposit back at any time.”

        Jealous? What a joke! Can’t wait to see you iTesla 3…

        If that is your idea of an investment, good luck.

        Ever heard of a Tucker? Or Davis, Or Dale, Or Bricklin? Or Delorean?

        If that is your idea of a great car, save your money and time and go buy a Chevy Bolt!

        • 0 avatar
          VoGo

          Tesla is doing a run of pre-production Model 3 prototypes in 2 weeks. It’s a real actual car, being developed by a carmaker worth $40B – that’s double what FCA is worth.

          If you don’t believe in Tesla, man up and short the stock. But stop whining, cardesigner.

          • 0 avatar
            CarDesigner

            VoGo-
            “Tesla is doing a run of pre-production MOdel 3 prototypes in 2 weeks. It’s a real actual car, being developed by a carmaker worth $40B – that’s double what FCA is worth. If you don’t believe in Tesla, man up and short the stock. But stop whining.”

            It is a real, actual car, developed by a a promoter extraordinaire with little expertise. What the hell does FCA have to do with a boutique builder? Show me tesla producing multiple cars at 300,000 a year EACH and then you can quit your crybabying rants. Then, maybe you can “man up” and do more than buy the latest ipod car!

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      I think most all the folks who laid down a grand on a future Tesla pretty much understood what they were getting into, probably more so than the ones who did that for Elio.

      As for making money re-selling your early production Model 3, I’m pretty dubious on that one. Maybe if you’re in a state with no sales tax you’d have a shot.

      And don’t forget the long running TTAC competition is still on between Mitsu PHEV, Elio, and Tesla 3 for first retail delivery.

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