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Elon Musk invites a union vote at Tesla, following a contentious history with organized labor

CEO says ‘Tesla will do nothing to stop them,’ referring to UAW efforts to hold a vote

Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla. (Al Drago/Bloomberg News)

SAN FRANCISCO — Elon Musk invited the United Auto Workers to hold a unionization vote at Tesla, a move that comes despite a history of tension with the union — including labor law violations by the CEO and electric automaker.

Musk invited the vote in a tweet thread, as he and Tesla fans fumed over President Biden’s snub of the electric vehicle maker in his State of the Union address. The president had highlighted other automakers’ electrification efforts. Many have speculated the Biden administration’s coolness to Tesla stems from its lack of unionization compared to auto industry peers.

“Our real challenge is Bay Area has negative unemployment, so if we don’t treat and compensate our (awesome) people well, they have many other offers and will just leave!” Musk wrote. “I’d like hereby to invite UAW to hold a union vote at their convenience. Tesla will do nothing to stop them.”

Tesla engaged in unfair labor practices, must reinstate fired worker and scrub Elon Musk tweet, NLRB says

Musk’s tweets Wednesday night were in response to an initial tweet from Gene Simmons, co-founder of the band KISS, who said Tesla’s efforts should have been recognized.

Unlike those of U.S. competitors such as General Motors and Ford, Tesla’s production facilities are not unionized, and UAW efforts to organize the workforce have not been successful. Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The UAW did not immediately provide a comment.

Musk’s statement was particularly notable because the National Labor Relations Board has found that Tesla violated labor law in the past, ordering the company to give a fired worker his job back and demanding that Musk delete a tweet discouraging unionization. Most of the initial ruling was upheld in 2021.

An administrative law judge found in 2019 that Tesla violated labor law when it interrogated workers over suspected unionization efforts, appeared to threaten workers with the loss of their stock if they unionized and unlawfully fired one and disciplined another over protected union-related activity. Tesla was found to have introduced rules requiring permission to distribute union pamphlets and related literature, actions that were named as part of a series of violations of the Labor Relations Act.

Tesla and CEO Elon Musk violated federal labor law, judge rules

Tesla, meanwhile, also prohibited employees from communicating with media outlets, which went against their right to speak “concerning labor disputes and terms and conditions of employment,” the board found.

Musk had been ordered to delete a tweet reading: “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare.”

The tweet was still up as of early Thursday.

California sues Tesla, alleging racial discrimination and harassment

Tesla has faced lawsuits alleging racist treatment, discrimination and sexual harassment at its facilities. California’s workplace regulator sued the automaker in February alleging pervasive racial discrimination and harassment at its factory, after saying it had received complaints from hundreds of workers.

Tesla has said its efforts to improve its workplace are a work in progress, and the company has sought to have some of the complaints deliberated outside of court because of mandatory arbitration agreements governing workplace disputes. The company responded to the California racial harassment lawsuit saying that it “strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment” and that it “continues to seek to provide a workplace that is safe, respectful, fair, and inclusive.”