By on March 19, 2018

tesla factory fremont, Image: Tesla Motors

The United Automobile Workers have had its eyes on Tesla Motors for years. However, it wasn’t until the start of 2017 when unionization efforts at the automaker’s Fremont, California factory really started ramping up. Following complaints that the automaker failed to ensure effective safety measures, Tesla employee Jose Moran published a blog post that openly criticized the company for overworking its staff in unsafe conditions. Moran also said payment was insufficient and promotions were unfair — suggesting unionization was the only way to protect employees.

Soon afterwards, the UAW began filing a slew of complaints to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) while Tesla was confronted with racial discrimination lawsuits. Widespread reports of worksite injuries also surfaced. The California Department of Industrial Relations saw over 180 Tesla employees applying for compensation as a result of serious injuries between 2012 and 2017. Now, the UAW is accusing the automaker of intimidating pro-union employees and terminating those it could not sway. 

The union used a similar strategy against Nissan last year, claiming it conducted one of the “nastiest anti-union campaigns in the modern history.” Workers at Nissan’s Canton, Mississippi assembly plant ultimately voted against joining the UAW by a wide margin.

Still, Tesla operates in a different part of the country and its workforce is arguably more likely to support unionization. The Southern U.S. opposes organized labor, for the most part — but California is a very different animal.

“This is the beginning of something,” Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California, Berkeley, told Automotive News. “They’re provoking ongoing conflict with a significant number of workers at a point where Tesla needs it the least … You’ve got a turning point here,” Shaiken continued. “Tesla, which has been so innovative in so many ways, seems to be reverting to 1930s-style union avoidance in the way it’s dealing with the UAW.”

Tesla fired 700 workers last October. Officially, it was the result of lackluster performance reviews. But some allege it was done to obliterate union support through the removal of problem employees.

Tesla says these claims are false, while remaining openly critical of the UAW’s attempts to gain power at its facilities. “It’s worth remembering that each year, roughly 20,000 [unfair labor practice complaints] are filed with the NLRB by unions like the UAW as an organizing tactic,” the company said in a statement.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has also accused the UAW of “disingenuous” tactics while doing everything in his power to convince the media and his staff that the factory is a safe and enjoyable place of employment. He has promised ice cream and a roller coaster, promised to undertake dangerous tasks to ensure their safety, and reminded employees that stock grants mean they make more than most employees at other auto plants.

However, the company’s death stroke against unionization could be the widespread automation of its factories. Tesla wants the most robo-centric facilities in the world, but it’s not there yet. Furthermore, having a disgruntled workforce attempting to organize against it couldn’t have come at a less opportune moment. The automaker needs to pull out the stops to ensure it hits production goals (after repeatedly pushing them back).

“The last thing Tesla needs is a protracted fight with its own workers and a union organizing campaign,” Shaiken said. “To profitably manufacture electric cars, they’re going to need a highly motivated workforce.”

Whether the UAW gains ground in Fremont remains to be seen. High turnover rates at the factory make it difficult to organize its staff and the NLRB under the Trump administration may be less sympathetic to union causes than it was during the Obama years. The UAW will also elect a new president in June who may or may not see Tesla as a lost cause. There is a lot of uncertainty over the future but the present seems to show the union adding pressure in California.

[Image: Tesla Motors]

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34 Comments on “Tesla and UAW Assume Battle Stations...”


  • avatar
    Sub-600

    The UAW is one click ahead of SEIU on the Slime-O-Meter. Unionization is the last thing Tesla needs, Elon will have to ask for a $5,000 deposit on a Model 3 If his workers organize. “Unionization was the only way to protect employees.” LMAO, these goons have no shame. “Brotherhood” ends at the front door of the local.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    I’m surprised the UAW would want anything to do with Tesla. The company already has problems. If it collapses, Musk will have the union for a scapegoat.

  • avatar
    tnk479

    I agree that Tesla doesn’t need a union. This is 2018 and Tesla is a modern manufacturer following all federal and state safety and environmental regulations, not an Upton Sinclair throwback. If workers don’t like working there they are free to resign and seek employment elsewhere. With that out of the way, I must point out that the CEO has fanned the flames of global warming hysteria at every opportunity in order to pump his Luxury EV startup as a way for rich baby boomers to pretend to save the world with their vapid consumerism. Live by the sword, die by the sword MF.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      If Elon wants to maintain his “special” status and friendship with Trump, he’ll allow the UAW in.

      • 0 avatar
        dantes_inferno

        >he’ll allow the UAW in.

        To manufacture the batteries, and not much else.

      • 0 avatar
        srh

        It’s not clear that Musk and Trump have any “special” relationship at this point. Musk has been openly critical of Trump, both before and after the election.

        Further, Musk’s compensation is tied to TSLA market cap targets. If he wants any chance of getting compensated, he’ll have to keep the unions out.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          People can be critical of Trump in public but still have a special relationship.

          The Brits and Aussies are openly critical of Trump all the time but make no mistake, the Brits, Aussies and the US are as one when the nitty meets the gritty.

    • 0 avatar
      EBFlex

      “I agree that Tesla doesn’t need a union.”

      Are you kidding? Are you just a blind Tesla shill?

      • 0 avatar
        srh

        Believe if or not, it is possible to believe that unions are out-dated without being a corporate shill.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          Yes, I also believe that unions are waaaaay outdated. Not anti-union, just not necessary because of Federal mandates and regulations.

          Regrettably, with the last and the current administrations, unions have assumed a new relevancy.

          • 0 avatar
            Sub-600

            Labor Unions are nothing more than political action groups. Ironically, liberals instituted so many regulations that they rendered their beloved unions obsolete. It’s really a joke at this point.

          • 0 avatar
            tnk479

            “Regrettably, with the last and the current administrations, unions have assumed a new relevancy.”

            How so?

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            “How so?”

            Both the current and the last guy in office needed the union vote to put them there.

            Talk about collusion! If the new Sheriff in DC is to be re-elected, he’ll need the union vote once again.

            By creating more jobs in America across the board, new opportunities open up for the unions to organize labor, with the POTUS’ wholehearted support in order to MAGA (which appeals to labor more than any other segment of the peeps.)

        • 0 avatar
          tnk479

          I am pretty critical of Tesla on many things.

  • avatar
    dantes_inferno

    Any UAW infection contracted will mean the end of Tesla as we know it.

    • 0 avatar
      EBFlex

      Then lets bring on the UAW

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        It will happen. Trump is a union guy.

        • 0 avatar
          Luke42

          Guessing what position Trump will take on any issue a fool’s game, unless it has to do Putin or Mueller.

          He’s completely random, outside of public admiration for Putin and a piblic disdain for Mueller.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            Luke42, I hope that Trump can make good on all the promises he made to the people who elected him.

            So far, he’s done pretty good and accomplished a lot of things I like and agree with.

            I didn’t vote for Trump.

            Trump has to appease the ‘crat union vote because they were instrumental in getting him the electoral votes in the Blue States.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Tesla will come to regret trying to build cars in California. The state is hostile to corporations in general.

  • avatar
    cdotson

    I never understood the hue and cry over the layoffs last year. I’d be willing to bet that the Venn diagram of “problem employees with lackluster performance” and “employees seeking Union representation” looks like condensation rings on a coaster.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      No doubt that many of those were undesirables, but flushing a significant percentage of your work force in one lump during a major product launch seems like poor management. You’d think those folks would be purged and replaced on an ongoing basis to avoid organization tear-up.

  • avatar
    kamiller42

    Shouldn’t the blood suckers wait until the host has stable vitals before the leeching the begins?

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    “Tesla wants the most robo-centric facilities in the world”

    Sounds good to the analysts no doubt, but most of the world’s leading auto mfgrs have already discovered it’s not that easy, economical, or desirable to replace well performing, flexible, problem solving humans in a lot of production job slots.

    They need to learn the basics of the Toyota Production System and stop running their factories like a science project.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Does the UAW really want to be associated with the junk rolling off Tesla’s assembly line? Their ability to engineer & manufacture a car leaves a LOT to be desired. Let’s just say the operations side of Tesla has a lot of growing up to do. They’ll figure it out eventually if they last that long. But in the mean time, hey they look good!……..lol

  • avatar
    turf3

    Wow, it’s actually difficult to mass produce cars with high quality and safety in the factory! Who would have guessed that those crusty old farts in the automotive industry, that all the computer-weenies have been saying are obsolete, might actually know something the computer jockeys don’t?

    There’s a world of difference between building a few thousand hand-assembled CEO toys that don’t actually need to function reliably, and building a few hundred thousand cars that have to compete against products like those from Toyota, Honda, and Buick. I know the manufacturing-haters will dispute this, but MANUFACTURING MATTERS.

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      “I know the manufacturing-haters will dispute this, but MANUFACTURING MATTERS.”

      Right on! Tesla you need to be a world class manufacturing company first to compete in todays automotive playing field. The car company part comes second! Sorry I don’t make the rules that’s just the way t is

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    IIRC, when NUMMI was running the plant for GM and Toyota, they had a unique collective bargaining agreement that was more flexible than the standard GM deal. NUMMI turned out top quality products on a consistent basis.


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