By on September 1, 2017

tesla factory fremont, Image: Tesla Motors

The National Labor Relations Board has filed an official complaint against Tesla Motors, saying the company violated workers’ rights by suppressing their efforts to unionize.

While automakers hoping to keep employees from joining a union is nothing new, the NLRB’s issue focuses around an obligatory confidentiality agreement that may have prohibited them from openly discussing their working conditions and safety concerns at the company’s facility in Fremont, California. The agency also investigated allegations from the workers that Tesla intimidated and harassed them, which would be a violation of workers’ rights under federal labor law.

Meanwhile, Tesla has decided not to take any of this sitting down. The electric automaker has issued a scathing response to the complaint by giving the United Auto Workers a piece of its mind.

Several employees filed formal complains with the NLRB earlier this year, citing instances of security interfering with attempts to rally potential union supporters at the factory, interrogations, surveillance, and even threats of termination. The UAW, which is a party to the complaint, has been strenuously working to unionize Tesla this past year — something CEO Elon Musk would prefer to avoid.

In February, Musk explained he had noticed “quite a strong effort” by the UAW to unionize Tesla, but stated it would be detrimental to the company. “There are really only disadvantages for someone to want the UAW here,” he said. “I mean, the track record is worse at any other company. I don’t think this is likely to occur.”

Musk went on to suggest that the UAW had used sensationalism and outright lies to make the company appear as if it unfairly compensated its employees and provided a dangerous working environment. The CEO even said he would involve himself in the line work of employees that had been injured to prove that it was safe and, if it wasn’t, ensure steps were taken to remedy the situation.

However, some workers have continued speaking out against the automaker, with union support.

“For as long as I’ve been at Tesla, it’s been clear to me that it’s up to the workers to make sure that we’re safe and treated fairly,” stated Jonathan Galescu, a Tesla Production Associate. “I joined others in filing the charges for myself, but I also did it for my coworkers — they need to know we have rights, and that we can speak up about what we are seeing and experiencing. I want to thank the NLRB for hearing us and the UAW for having our backs as we continue our fight to address the issues on the shop floor and form our union.”

The NLRB filing notes numerous occasions where factory security prohibited staff from passing out fliers, claiming that union leafleting was not allowed. Details of the employee agreement were also included in the document, which does appear to prohibit all outside communication about the company without approval. While the language used is broad, the company has previously specified that the agreement is written in a “plain-spoken manner that is respectful of the legal rights of our employees and fully compliant with state and federal laws.”

Tesla maintains that the confidentiality agreement exists to protect trade secrets, not stifle unionization. “Our confidentiality agreement has nothing to do with the rights of workers to openly discuss organizing efforts — something that is obvious from the document itself and disproved by the fact that a small number of active Tesla employees are currently engaging in this very behavior without retaliation,” a Tesla spokesperson explained to Automotive News last April.

That’s not a bad argument, but it hasn’t kept five California state lawmakers from urging Tesla to revise its agreement to better adhere to labor laws. It also hasn’t stopped the National Labor Relations Board from filing its own complaint.

In a more recent statement, the automaker responded to Thursday’s NLRB complaint filing — taking a specific aim at the UAW’s own tactics in an aggressive note that’s too good not to post in its entirety:

“As we approach Labor Day weekend, there’s a certain irony in just how far the UAW has strayed from the original mission of the American labor movement, which once advocated so nobly for the rights of workers and is the reason we recognize this important holiday. Faced with declining membership, an overwhelming loss at a Nissan plant earlier this month, corruption charges that were recently leveled against union leaders who misused UAW funds, and failure to gain traction with our employees, it’s no surprise the union is feeling pressured to continue its publicity campaign against Tesla. For seven years, the UAW has used every tool in its playbook: misleading and outright false communications, unsolicited and unwelcomed visits to the homes of our employees, attempts to discredit Tesla publicly in the media, and now another tactic that has been used in every union campaign since the beginning of time — baseless ULP filings that are meant only to generate headlines. These allegations, which have been filed by the same contingent of union organizers who have been so outspoken with media, are entirely without merit. We will obviously be responding as part of the NLRB process.”

A hearing has been scheduled before an administrative law judge of the NLRB on November 14th in Oakland, California.

[Image: Tesla]

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45 Comments on “Labor Relations Board Files Worker Rights Complaint Against Tesla; Musk Fires Back...”


  • avatar
    xtoyota

    Move everything to Nevada…… end of story

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The fact that millions of people can read about these allegations online – along with the existence of the NLRB – is why the UAW has outlived its reason to exist.

    On the other hand, Tesla – particularly in the shadow of Mr Musk’s “production hell” comments – really needs to watch its P’s and Q’s when it comes to labor safety and fairness. A bad injury, or unfair labor/wage practices by the company, could seriously jeopardize its hope to produce gazillions of vehicles without unionizing the plant.

    Tesla has the right to call out the UAW in such rich fashion, but the workers *do* deserve to enjoy a reasonably safe work environment. I’d prefer to know more hard facts, than simple allegations and finger-pointing. But I guess that’s what the NLRB’s job is now.

    • 0 avatar
      tod stiles

      Nothing about a labor dispute will jeopardize Tesla. It’s part of the new norm to keep the working class down. It would be extremely difficult for workers to do anything to Tesla because of a labor dispute.

      I find it interesting how Tesla comes out swinging so often. If there’s no problem then what’s all the fuss? Isn’t that what we’re always told?

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “The fact that millions of people can read about these allegations online – along with the existence of the NLRB – is why the UAW has outlived its reason to exist.”

      it’s all well and good that millions of people can read about them online, but if they don’t actually do anything about it, so what? I’m pretty sure that someone could report how Elon is personally walking the line with a cat ‘o nine tails screaming “faster! *thwp* FASTER! *thwp*” and that wouldn’t dissuade Tesla fans from climbing all over each other to get their Model 3.

      which is why unions formed and still exist. Consumers don’t care about the people making their toys, so long as said toys are cheap and shiny.

  • avatar
    Ralahamy

    Irony. Elon Musk is a champion of liberal causes and politics.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Sure, but that doesn’t mean he has to be a champion of potentially false allegations against his company.

      • 0 avatar
        jpolicke

        Complaints about working conditions and safety issues at the Tesla plant have been going on for some time; it doesn’t appear to be one or two malcontents at work here.

        If Musk didn’t want the UAW knocking at his door he should have founded the company in a right-to-work state in the first place. With his typical arrogance he just assumed he’d be exempted because green electric cars.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          what does being a “right to work” state have to do with anything? Right-to-work doesn’t ban labor unions, it just means you can’t be compelled to join one as a condition of employment at a particular place.

          I mean, for God’s sake Michigan has been “right to work” for 5 years now, and it’s basically changed nothing.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      “Irony. Elon Musk is a champion of liberal causes and politics.”

      The true *irony* is the fact it doesn’t matter whether you are liberal or conservative, money is money and corporate heads want to earn as much as possible.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      “Irony. Elon Musk is a champion of liberal causes and politics.”

      And the majority of people who’ve repurposed commercial airliners as private commuter vehicles use them to travel around telling governments to end the middle class to reduce carbon production. Your point?

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      There’s a big, gaping difference between “Liberal” and “Leftist”. The former is a political and social classification, with economic effects; the latter is an economic classification that drags along social and political effects.

      There’s a concept called “neoliberalism”, which certainly applies to Musk, and is akin to the pejorative “champagne socialism”. People who espouse both are okay with whom you sleep with and what colour skin you are, but don’t you dare tax them more or build affordable housing in their neighbourhood.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Can’t understand why Musk wouldn’t welcome the assistance of progressive labor “partners”. Especially in a plant that was previously successful with them on board.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Same irony of working to banish automakers and their customers into complex, costly turbocharged pieces of crap on the basis of “efficiency” and emissions (e.g., regulating the end-product of aerobic respiration, FFS), and likely, anonymous, androgynous, autonomous pods before long…

      …while hopping into their Gulfstreams, CitationJets, and other forms of airborne 1%-er personal transportation devices, and emitting more of aforesaid aerobic byproduct to heat their Tennessee manses than a thousand “normal” families!

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      So successful that it was the first Toyota plant in the world to close.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    In the era of OSHA and enough injury trial lawyers to fill a phonebook(or YELP I suppose), there doesn’t seem to be a place in the competitive market that is automotive production.
    Making automobiles is not a high paying profession.
    I recall the nephew of a UAW Ford plant member visiting one of my dads colleagues for the summer. He was a bachelor, and as a professor, he was able to grant free semesters of tuition to his nephew, as he had no children of his own.
    The young man, about 16 y/o, as I recall I was only 14 at the time , would be given a free car ( a sweet early 80s Volvo 240 w/ a manual trans), and free room and board at this super cool uncle’s house.
    Essentially what a collegiate athlete would receive, if you include the free car.
    His declined, stating he can work at Ford plant with his dad and make the same amount of money as a college professor and a huge discount on a Ford Taurus . I wonder where he is now.

  • avatar
    thelastdriver

    Remember that Tesla’s current facility is the former NUMMI plant that was a joint venture with Toyota. They pulled out because of union threats.

    Both my uncle and a friend have worked at GM plants around Ohio. They both agree UAW dues are a waste of money and they’d be happy (as they work for an automaker) with a new vehicle every decade. Just… Negotiate with your employer.

    When they switched to Hondas in the 80’s manufactured in Marysville (non-union) it wasn’t long before they were standing in the unemployment line.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “Remember that Tesla’s current facility is the former NUMMI plant that was a joint venture with Toyota. They pulled out because of union threats.”

      No, they pulled out because GM terminated the partnership during their bankruptcy.

      Why do you people so fervently insist on writing your own false versions of history?

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        Probably a coincidence that it was the first Toyota plant in the world to close. Toyota must be pretty frivolous about shutting down factories and firing employees.

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          Toyota closed the plant because it was half-empty after GM bailed.

          Put it this way: they had ~85% production in Cambridge, ~85% in Baja and 30-35% in NUMMI. GM made up the bulk of NUMMI production, and when they bailed, it would have been batsh*t insane to keep NUMMI open when Toyota could just make better use of their existing plants.

          Or were you expecting them to move production **in the middle of biggest SAAR crash in history** to an under-utilized plant that their potentially-bankrupt partner just bailed on.

          But yeah, sure, it’s the union. Not the financial crisis or the realities of production.

  • avatar
    Cactuar

    Unrelated but.. TTAC, is there a reason why the home page shows 15 articles? It makes for a tedious page load and long scrolling. I suggest to show 6 or 8 and use pagination instead.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      I don’t think the number of articles is the problem. I have relatively slow internet and a fifteen-year-old desktop, and it only takes a couple seconds unless I enable scripts.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I want to see Tesla succeed. I want to see some new plants, and more models. I believe the E.V. is here to stay and Tesla seems to have the concept down.

    As I see it Tesla has two major concerns that need to be addressed . Number one..Mass produce a quality product. Number two …Fix the labour relation problem without opening the door to the UAW.

    I would suggest reading the Honda and Toyota playbook.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      ” Number one..Mass produce a quality product.”

      they won’t until they have to. Up until now they’ve been selling stuff to people whose entire goal is “Buy a Tesla” and have put up with or made excuses for all of their flaws.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      @mikey: I wonder how many of their employees have actually worked in a manufacturing plant before?

      I always considered an auto plant (especially the body shop) as a dangerous place. One of my favorite parts of the line was where the right and left sides of the body were joined to the center. Yellow lights would start flashing, then fixtures holding the sides would sweep across the aisles on either side of the line with the center of the body, then they were welded into a single unit. If you were standing in that aisle in the path of one of those fixtures, you’d probably be crushed. I remember a woman getting her foot caught between one side and the center at GMAD OKC when they first opened.

      • 0 avatar
        mikey

        I’ve witnessed too many accidents ,and injuries . I’ve seen the after effect of even more.. 99.9 percent of the time it can be traced to human error. Generally somebody did not follow the proper safety procedures .

        Production must not take preference over safety…In fairness I would have to say, in my 36 years of experience GM took worker safety pretty seriously.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          Yeah, they did a lot to make it safe. Still, you had to stay aware. Maybe because I had to move around a lot of moving pieces it was a little riskier for me. Theoretically, it was probably a bit less safe when they started speeding up the line. I’m thinking back to the early 80’s when they were trying to pump out as much as they could. It was also a new plant start-up. I saw the plant go from dirt floors to full production.

          They (Oklahoma City) weren’t organized at first, then at some point organized. Many of the workers came from other GM plants and essentially brought the union with them.

          I remember that management didn’t care much about quality and production numbers mattered the most. I once reported some issues with several jobs and they told me to forget about it “the dealer will take care of it”. They had to make their numbers. These were X cars BTW.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        “@mikey: I wonder how many of their employees have actually worked in a manufacturing plant before?”

        I’m under the impression that they hired lots of out-of-work former-UAW NUMMI people. That’s why they have the labor issues that they do.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          Interesting. I was picturing a bunch of ex-baristas freaking out over the machinery. Anyway, Tesla seems to have a backup plan in the works:

          https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/22/business/tesla-factory-china.html

          • 0 avatar
            mikey

            I no idea what the hiring criteria at Tesla was/is..I believe that “mcs” was merely pointing out just how dangerous a manufacturing facility can be.

            I have personally trained 30-40 year olds, that came with zero factory experience…As a trainer you can take nothing for granted, in regards to safety.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            Interesting info in the electrek.co article on this subject. Their information is that many of the workers opposing the UAW are in fact the former NUMMI employees. They also claim they’ve been told that the pro-union people are a small minority. As for me, it’s been 30+ years since I’ve spent time inside GMAD Fremont so I have no first-hand information as to what’s going on.

          • 0 avatar
            el scotto

            A tip of a Cold Frosty One to you and Mikey on this Labor Day. It’s nice to hear from those with auto manufacturing experience. Please keep your comments and stories coming.

      • 0 avatar
        mreilo

        @MCS: I remember a woman getting her foot caught between one side and the center at GMAD OKC when they first opened.

        The Framing Gates for the GMT 360/370/305 (Envoy XL/Trailblazer EX/Ascender Long Wheelbase) were completely encased inside fences. It’s interesting to note that most GM plants that had at least one strike are no longer with us… OKC being one of them, Pontiac, Janesville….

  • avatar
    thelaine

    The UAW got 20 billion dollars of US taxpayer dollars to fund their pension system and they have no obligation to ever pay it back, all as a payoff for massive financial and political support for the Obama administration.

    When Musk says the UAW is corrupt, it is true, but I never cared as long as they were just stealing from their own members. Ever since they stole taxpayer’s 20 billion, however, it has been a different story. Here is some language you gangster mooks can understand: Gimme back my fkin money, UAW.

    Delco workers took a big pension hit, but UAW workers got made whole with my money. Why? Graft and corruption. UAW went 69 with Obama. Simultaneous release.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      as opposed to the trillions the US Government stole to mess up Iraq and destabilize the entire Levant?

      step over dollars to pick up pennies.

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        Hey Charlottesville libelist. Still stalking me? Look up “non-sequitur.”

        “I am opposed to subsidies for windmills.”
        “It’s nothing compared to the cost of the Vietnam War.”
        Oh, OK then.

        Question: Who thinks 20 billion dollars of earned and confiscated taxpayer money handed over to a corrupt labor mafia as a political payoff is “pennies?” Who thinks the Iraq war justifies paying off corrupt unions? Who refuses to address the issues and instead deflects to hackneyed bromides? Who reflexively accuses people of being racists (etc) if they disagree with them politically? Answer to all: a typical leftist.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        “as opposed to the trillions the US Government stole to mess up Iraq and destabilize the entire Levant?

        step over dollars to pick up pennies.”

        If you were sentient, you’d realize that the problem is that this is the level of consideration that goes into all government expenditures. They’re spending other people’s money to win the favor of people who they didn’t steal it from at gunpoint. They’re also taking other people’s lives. Government is bad. More government is worse.

    • 0 avatar
      Whittaker

      “When Musk says the UAW is corrupt, it is true, but I never cared as long as they were just stealing from their own members. Ever since they stole taxpayer’s 20 billion, however, it has been a different story. Here is some language you gangster mooks can understand: Gimme back my fkin money, UAW.”

      Well said.
      The UAW is both pitiful and unworthy of pity.

  • avatar
    65corvair

    It’s real easy to make the UAW go away. Treat you workers fairly. It worked for Honda, Toyota, etc. Happy workers make a better product and more profits.

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