Tesla, the Worker, the Union, and the Bill That Can't Help Elon Musk

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
tesla the worker the union and the bill that cant help elon musk

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 Over time, GM took less and less of NUMMI production and by the 2000’s had effectively withdrawn from NUMMI.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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10 of 59 comments
  • Indi500fan Indi500fan on Feb 11, 2017

    "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.

    • OldManPants OldManPants on Feb 11, 2017

      Stupid people of any origin breed hard. This guy at least shows a lot of restraint. Or is just lying.

  • CarDesigner CarDesigner on Feb 12, 2017

    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!

    • See 6 previous
    • CarDesigner CarDesigner on Feb 12, 2017

      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!

  • SCE to AUX I charge at home 99% of the time, on a Level 2 charger I installed myself in 2012 for my Leaf. My house is 1967, 150-Amp service, gas dryer and furnace; everything else is electric with no problems. I switched from gas HW to electric HW last year, when my 18-year-old tank finally failed.I charge at a for-pay station maybe a couple times a year.I don't travel more than an hour each way in my Ioniq 1 EV, so I don't deal much with public chargers. Despite a big electric rate increase this year, my car remains ridiculously cheap to operate.
  • ToolGuy 38:25 to 45:40 -- Let's all wait around for the stupid ugly helicopter. 😉The wheels and tires are cool, as in a) carbon fiber is a structural element not decoration and b) they have some sidewall.Also like the automatic fuel adjustment (gasoline vs. ethanol).(Anyone know why it's more powerful on E85? Huh? Huh?)
  • Ja-GTI So, seems like you have to own a house before you can own a BEV.
  • Kwik_Shift Good thing for fossil fuels to keep the EVs going.
  • Carlson Fan Meh, never cared for this car because I was never a big fan of the Gen 1 Camaro. The Gen 1 Firebird looked better inside and out and you could get it with the 400.The Gen 2 for my eyes was peak Camaro as far as styling w/those sexy split bumpers! They should have modeled the 6th Gen after that.