By on December 14, 2018

Employees at Tesla’s solar-panel factory in Buffalo, New York, are launching a drive to unionize with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Steelworkers. The campaign aims to unify about 300 production and maintenance employees at the the facility.  If it succeeds, it will be the first time the automaker has failed to stop its staff from organizing inside the U.S.

The EV manufacturers’ labor force wants the same thing we all want — more money. Many claim that Tesla offers unfair wages and believe collective bargaining is the only road to higher pay. 

According to Bloomberg, the two workers’ unions began hearing from Tesla employees earlier this year. “They want a fair wage that’s reflective of the state investment that the company received,” explained USW organizing coordinator Dave Wasiura.

Despite managing to prevent its American staff from organizing thus far, union talk persists at the company’s vehicle assembly plant in Fremont, California. Several former employees have accused Tesla of firing them for being union supporters and then claiming poor performance as the official cause of termination. Others have voiced safety concerns and poor working conditions, saying Tesla ignored the issue.

Elon Musk has a contentious relationship with labor unions. He pulled out every trick in the book to encourage his Californian team to snub the UAW over the past two years. He even went as far as accusing the UAW of engaging in “disingenuous” tactics and fear mongering while doing everything in his power to convince the media and his staff that the factory was a safe and enjoyable place of employment. He promised ice cream and a roller coaster, promised to undertake dangerous tasks himself to ensure their safety, and reminded employees that stock grants mean they make more than most employees at other auto plants.

From Bloomberg:

A Tesla spokesperson said that Tesla pays workers an average of $16.20 an hour and gives them benefits and an equity stake in the company. Tesla also pays performance bonuses, and said that the hourly wages are better than the average production worker makes in the Buffalo region.

“We offer wages and benefits that exceed those of other comparable manufacturing jobs in the region, and we recently increased our base pay even further,” Tesla said in a statement. “In addition, unlike other manufacturers, every single employee is an owner of Tesla, as everyone receives stock upon hire and for good performance, which results in significantly more compensation beyond our already high wages.”

Officially, Musk says he was “neutral” on the workforce organizing, and management’s alleged union-busting practices have proven notoriously difficult to prove. Meanwhile, employees in Buffalo have started gathering outside the factory this week to show the rest of the staff they are serious about launching an effort to unionize.

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33 Comments on “Tesla Workers Are Attempting to Unionize Again...”


  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Electrical workers are not auto workers; they actually have marketable skills.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      My dad was an electrical worker and member of the IBEW for decades. Until he got smarter and sought a career with US Civil Service at the JPL in Pasadena, CA, as an Electrical worker.

      My oh my, what a difference! So much better in Civil Service.

      • 0 avatar
        civicjohn

        I’m not sure why Government workers at any level (local, state,or federal) should be unionized. In private industry you certainly can make the case, others, not so much.

        I have several friends in the IASTE union, rigging and flying lights and speakers for concerts, they have to work long hours and the work is very dangerous. I wouldn’t ever have the balls to walk across a narrow catwalk 300 feet above a concrete floor. The union gets them the money they are due, and the artists and audience don’t have to worry about anything coming down that would kill them.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          civicjohn, there are lots of different unions that cater to government workers. My dad chose NOT to join any of them, and also dropped his membership in the IBEW.

          There was a lot of pressure brought to bear on my dad for not joining and paying dues to any of those federal-sanctioned unions but he held stead fast on the premise that he had been forced to be a member of the IBEW in order to work and in government service he was free to choose to belong or not to belong.

          Unions for government workers are only good for settling disputes between management and labor but cannot negotiate wages, benefits or duty responsibilities. HR does all that through the US Congress.

          Long story short, in three years when my dad was promoted to GS-12 Supervisor, he became Management, and no longer Labor, thus no longer union-eligible.

          • 0 avatar
            civicjohn

            @hdc, I wasn’t referring to your father, just my personal dislike for government employee unions.

            There are a number of whistle-blower laws and agencies that are supposed to help, I imagine they are all far from perfect, I recently read about one such agency that is a 3-person panel and they haven’t had a third person for 6 years.

            Call me old-fashioned when your management is elected, that’s all I meant.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            civicjohn, I understood that it wasn’t about my dad.

            But my wife is retired Civil Service as a GS12 Step 10 with more than 30 years accumulated under both the CSRS and FERS systems. Hence the giant annuity payment she gets every month.

            My wife also chose not to join any union during her working years, as did her dad who retired with 30+ yrs Civil Service from the AFMDC.

            Then again, both of them were high enough up the ladder where they were part of Mgt, not Labor.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    I’m really surprised that the Fremont plant (both hourly and salary) hasn’t jumped in bed with the UAW. Based on that recent Wired story, Elon is running a true 1920s sweatshop with Henry Ford style intimidation. The only difference is instead of Pinkertons, Musk gets his security force from the CIA and the Secret Service.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      If such allegations were true, they’d be common knowledge in today’s wired world. Tesla and other employers know this, so they typically strive to avoid the bad publicity such charges would bring.

      In the 1920s, not so much.

      I believe you could get rid of the UAW and Unifor, and conditions and pay at the Big Three plants wouldn’t change.

      • 0 avatar
        jkross22

        Interesting take. From many reports, Musk is an absolute a-hole to work for directly, but the issue is how much of that filters down to less senior leadership and to the floor.

        • 0 avatar
          indi500fan

          If you believe Wired, a visit from Musk sends the peons scurrying for cover.

          “The engineer was taken aback. He had never met Musk before. Musk didn’t even know the engineer’s name. The young man wasn’t certain what, exactly, Musk was asking him, or why he sounded so angry.

          “You mean, program the robot?” the engineer said. “Or design that tool?”

          “Did you fucking do this?” Musk asked him.

          “I’m not sure what you’re referring to?” the engineer replied apologetically.

          “You’re a fucking idiot!” Musk shouted back. “Get the fuck out and don’t come back!”

          The young engineer climbed over a low safety barrier and walked away. He was bewildered by what had just happened. The entire conversation had lasted less than a minute. A few moments later, his manager came over to say that he had been fired on Musk’s orders, according to two people with knowledge of the situation. The engineer was shocked. He’d been working so hard. He was set to get a review from his manager the next week, and had been hearing only positive things. Instead, two days later, he signed his separation papers.

        • 0 avatar
          tonycd

          It filters down a lot. I remember seeing reports over a year ago, long before the unionization drive became public, that assembly line job applicants were openly warned in Tesla job interviews to expect incessant overtime: “Changing the world is not a 9-to-5 job.”

          Of course, if the person “changing the world” is knowingly hiring an insufficient number of people to do it despite enormous cash on hand from stock offerings, it makes you wonder how committed to world-changing Musk himself really was. More to the point is that Musk, an ambitious egomaniac, was merely having his underlings parrot the lofty-sounding phrase he’d learned from his patriarch Steve Jobs.

          • 0 avatar
            tonycd

            This just in: Thanks to Musk, Tesla’s daily operations are even more dysfunctional than you thought.

            https://www.wired.com/story/elon-musk-tesla-life-inside-gigafactory/

          • 0 avatar
            Vulpine

            @TonyCD: I would note that Steve Jobs was hardly any different and look at where Apple is today.

      • 0 avatar
        tonycd

        SCE, I believe history has proven unions set a pay/benefits/conditions floor that even nonunion workplaces feel they have to match. Once unions are gone, as in industries that never unionized to begin with, employers don’t feel any pressure to avoid abusing the help.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          Not a huge UAW fan, but if you don’t think the threat of unionization puts upward pressure on pay at the transplant factories in the South you are crazy.

          • 0 avatar
            civicjohn

            @Art V, you’re correct. The Nissan plant in Canton, MS is a perfect example. The average pay is $26/ hour, with a generous 401k plan, excellent benefits and vacation time, and the UAW lost the war.

            $26/ hour goes pretty far in Canton, I’ve been there many times. It truly was a win-win for both sides.

            The UAW suffered another loss in 2014 at the VW plant in Chattanooga, but they did win the battle with some of the suppliers. Since VW is saying that some of their EVs may be built in Chattanooga with an expansion of the factory, one can assume that both sides will be bringing their A game to the table.

  • avatar
    tylanner

    Tesla will pay their workers as much as needed and not a cent more. That may ultimately mean unions but anyone expecting a company to voluntarily sign up for an intrusive and tedious program is just delusional.

    Unions have nearly exhausted their usefulness but that wont stop them from trying to add solar panels to their portfolio….

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      tylanner, I don’t agree that “unions have nearly exhausted their usefulness.”

      I will agree that they’ve been severely weakened in recent years, and in the short term at least, that trend will continue. And I won’t deny that unions are made of imperfect humans and that they, too, sometimes have abuses.

      But look at the liberties employers are taking with their employees now. 10,000 layoffs at Verizon in exchange for tax and regulatory cuts they promised they’d pass along to workers. The horrible working conditions at Amazon. The growing practice of routinely working people 30 hours or repeatedly rehiring them as “temporary” so they never get benefits. And on and on. History has proven that the best leverage that employees can get against this kind of abuse is the power of collective bargaining. Which is why large corporate employers are so determined not only to deny that power to them, but to convince all of it it’s not a good thing.

      • 0 avatar
        jatz

        “I can hire one half of the working class to kill the other half.”
        -Jay Gould

        Nothing has changed since then except for Open Borders assuring that they’ll never run out.

        • 0 avatar

          And it is even easier if you can control some media to convince them it’s a good idea, and to fear “socialism” which is OK if you own the factory and want government money, but is “bad” if it buys a worker some safety….

      • 0 avatar
        tylanner

        Those are fair points…but I’m not convinced that those imperfect humans should be favored over vested ones.

        Unions that I’ve interacted with operate almost wholly independent of the sustainability of the business (market conditions, etc).

        In an industry that is as volatile and moving as fast as this one, I don’t see how a union doesn’t cripple progress. If China is our only real competition, the sacrifices likely to be demanded would disadvantage domestic manufacturing.

        That being said the type of protections you mention would hopefully be something Tesla would compromise on without the need of a third party. I think regulation would be more helpful in preventing those type of exploits than representation…

  • avatar
    thejohnnycanuck

    There are unions and then there’s the UAW. You simply can’t paint all of them with the same brush.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Full disclosure. I was member of the UAW, and the now defunct CAW, and replaced by UNIFOR. Its been 10 years since I retired at the age of 55. Today I watch what “was” the the biggest, most powerfull vehicle producing company in the world, arguably circling the drain.

    God willing, sometime next week I will have out lived my early retirement supplement. Rough math puts the figure at somewhere about a 26 percent before tax, reduction. I consider myself very fortunate to be receiving a reduced and all ..”Defined Benefit pension” .. My promised “gold plated” benefit plan never materialized . Today I enjoy a much reduced, but adequate benefit plan. ( I do pay a monthly premium ).. Said plan is administered by UNIFOR. I find that a little frightening. However I take some comfort with the fact that we do have on the board of directors some folks with valid financial creds .

    The future of GM, and especially GM Canada is not looking good. IF the “fit hits the shan ” at GM, and or GM Canada I can’t see the UAW/UNIFOR having too much input . However they will have some. “Some” being better than F.A.

    That being said. The question I ask myself, is one of “would I be in this position without the UAW, CAW and UNIFOR ?”

    You will have to excuse me if don’t jump on the union bashing band wagon.

    On topic. Is Mr Musk serious about keeping the UAW out ? If he is, take a page out of the Honda ,Toyota playbook. Treat your employees with respect, and dignity. Pay them a fair wage/benefit package . Don’t hand ammo to the UAW.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Well said mikey, as always.

      If what Tesla says about its compensation package is true, then I doubt the UAW will get in there. Same thing at the transplants.

      As with any mfg operation, Tesla is bound to have some safety issues from time to time. They will have to contend with OSHA before the UAW on that front.

    • 0 avatar
      ravenuer

      Always good to hear from someone who’s been there.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Yes we all know that Tesla is practically printing money, so of course they should pay their workers, who risk nothing, more than shareholders who actually put their money at risk.

    I just flew in from China. Visiting factories there, where people are happy to have a job. The landscape is dotted with cranes as the Chinese can’t erect buildings and infrastructure fast enough. While the UAW quibbles over a few cents an hour, China is leaving us in the dust.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      And, Master, China is “leaving us in the dust” with workers who labor in sweatshop conditions and make a buck an hour if they’re lucky. Is this your idea of the “success” you want America and its workers to emulate?

      Also, you insinuate that shareholders deserve the fruits of a company’s success, but its workers do not. If that’s your idea of fairness, why not take fairness to its ultimate conclusion, and force Tesla to give half its profits to the U.S. Government that essentially put it in business by donating a world-class factory? It’s called “taxes.” We used to make corporations pay them, and spend the money to help everybody in the country. It was a system that worked great until we abandoned it.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        @tonycd: “… the U.S. Government that essentially put it in business by donating a world-class factory?”

        Would you mind explaining this? Exactly how did the U.S. government ‘donate’ the factory?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      “The landscape is dotted with cranes”

      Come to Boston. China isn’t leaving us in the dust. Our skyline is dotted with cranes putting up multiple skyscrapers too. Craploads of smaller buildings going up. Seaport District is hot too with Amazon bringing 2,000 people and a new building. Loads of jobs available.

  • avatar
    multicam

    Look for
    The union label
    When you are buying
    A P90D
    Remember somewhere
    A union’s growing
    Our wages going
    To charge the car and run the house
    We work hard and Musk’s complaining
    The UAW is making him pay
    So always look for
    The union label
    Because we need it to make it in the USAAAAA

  • avatar
    Todd Priest

    Hope Tesla can fight this. Unions are bad cancer. Just ask GM.

  • avatar
    Jason801

    If Tesla’s compensation isn’t competitive, how did the employees end up working for Tesla?

  • avatar
    JoDa

    Only a fool would open a business in New York.
    Musk had to have seen this coming.

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