Tesla’s Resistance to Union Efforts

Published on June 8th, 2024

In 2017, Jose Moran, a Tesla employee, was fired for starting a “Fair Future at Tesla” union campaign at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California. Shortly after, Moran spoke out on Bloomberg Business Week and published an essay highlighting the long hours, low pay, and risks of injuries that employees deal with at the factory. According to CBS in 2018, the NLRB ruled that Tesla’s decision to fire Jose Moran was illegal retaliation.

Several trade unions have unsuccessfully tried to unionize Tesla workers in the United States. According to CBS in 2018, Tesla responded by firing employees involved in all three campaigns including Jose Moran, who worked at Tesla’s Fremont factory. According to Reuters in 2017, the United Auto Workers indicated its interest in unionizing Tesla, spending over $400,000 by 2018 on organizing campaigns, supporting union advocates, and filing complaints with the NLRB.  According to Hull & Eidelson in 2024, Tesla’s factory in Fremont alone employs thousands of workers. Employees at the plant have formed a UAW organizing committee, and the union has committed to providing whatever resources are necessary for the campaign there.

Another effort to unionize Tesla occurred in December 2018. According to Reuters, workers at the solar panel Gigafactory in Buffalo announced a unionization drive with the support of United Steel Workers (USW) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). Subsequently, the United Steel Workers filed a complaint one month later, alleging that Tesla illegally used surveillance on workers and fired several employees in retaliation. In 2023, workers at the same Gigafactory in Buffalo involved with labeling data for Tesla’s autopilot program, announced a unionization effort with Workers United. A day after the announcement, a complaint was filed with the NLRB against Tesla for firing over 18 employees who participated in the Workers United organizing. Ultimately, the NLRB dismissed the illegal firing complaint but found merits in the other complaints around workplace surveillance.

According to Reuters in 2023, Tesla faced labor law violations in Florida. An administrative judge ruled that Tesla violated labor laws by suppressing workers at a service center in Orlando, Florida, from discussing pay and bringing up working condition grievances. This was seen as a form of union restriction. Thus, there are currently 17 open unfair labor practice violations pending with the NLRB involving Tesla.

In October 2023, IF Metall, a Swedish labor union, initiated a strike against TM Sweden, a Tesla vehicle service subsidiary, over the company’s refusal to sign a collective bargaining agreement. According to Reuters, the strike, initially affecting mechanics at several workshops solely servicing Tesla vehicles, later expanded to include other facilities servicing various car brands. While workers continued with regular tasks, they refrained from servicing Tesla vehicles during the strike. Other Swedish trade unions later joined out of sympathy. The Swedish Transport Workers Union blocked the loading and unloading of Tesla cars, while dockworkers, electricians, and postal workers halted services to Tesla. Musk has reportedly instructed TM Sweden to sign no collective bargaining agreements. 

Musk is currently battling labor forces in Sweden, along with union efforts throughout the United States. Musk has also taken to social media to attack union advocates and organizations. Ultimately, Musk perceives unions as adversaries and not as a collective voice for workers.

According to Bhattacharya in 2024, Tesla, alongside 12 other automakers, were urged by a group of 33 senators to adopt a neutral stance in the ongoing United Auto Workers (UAW) unionization efforts at American auto plants. The letter, signed by Democratic senators such as Gary Peters, Ron Wyden, Dick Durbin, Patty Murray, Alex Padilla, Sherrod Brown, Debbie Stabenow, and more, was addressed to Tesla CEO Elon Musk and executives at other auto manufacturers .

The letter, reported by Reuters,  stated, “We believe a neutrality agreement is the bare minimum standard manufacturers should meet in respecting workers’ rights, especially as companies receive and benefit from federal funds related to the electric vehicle transition.” The letter expressed worries about alleged unlawful actions by management at various automakers to obstruct unionization. Additionally, the letter referenced National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) conclusions pointing to Tesla’s use of  illegal tactics and restrictions to block union organizing efforts, including online harassment, employee interrogations, and retaliatory terminations.

 According to Hull & Eidelson in 2024, in response to UAW’s victories at other auto manufacturers late last year, along with the letter from 33 senators, Tesla rolled out “market adjustment” pay increases to many of its factory workers across the United States. Tesla is joining the likes of Hyundai, Volkswagen, and Toyota in raising wages after United Auto Workers secured historic labor agreements at Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis. 

Under President Shawn Fain’s leadership, the UAW seeks recognition of the union by the company or a vote when it secures about over 70 percent of workers at a factory. According to the UAW website, by the end of January 2024, over 10,000 auto workers across 13 non-union companies signed union cards with the UAW, due to the momentum built by the successful strikes.

Additionally, according to Shepardson & Deka (2024), the United Auto Workers (UAW) stated that they would commit an estimated 40  million to organizing non-union automobile workers in the United States over the next 3 years. On top of that, the UAW International Executive Board also voted to establish a new solidarity project to support autoworkers in Mexico fighting for economic justice and improved working conditions. The project will provide resources to Mexican workers and independent unions in Mexico and aims to strengthen cross-border solidarity between U.S. and Mexican workers.  

by Eli Rechucher

Action Steps

  1. Write to your senators to fight for the PRO Act. Click here
Additional Materials
  1. Read how Tesla workers battle anti-union here.