The United Auto Workers will attempt to organize workers at Tesla, UAW President Dennis Williams told reporters during a recent roundtable discussion at union headquarters in Detroit.
“We have contacts there. We know that plant very well. It’s the old NUMMI plant. We’re very interested in Tesla,” Williams said.
The Tesla factory is in Fremont, California, just outside San Francisco. The electric car company builds its Model S and new Model X there and it once belonged to the New United Motors Manufacturing Inc., a General Motors and Toyota joint venture that employed 5,000 UAW members. The NUMMI plant closed in 2010 and Tesla now has about 1,000 employees at the site.
Williams declined to offer any details of the organizing effort but he said he had met with Tesla founder Elon Musk, though the meeting was not recently. Musk has said in the past that he would let employees decide if they wanted a union.
“I think he’s a fascinating man. When I met him, we had some dialog,” Williams told reporters, adding that Musk also had met with his predecessor, former UAW president Bob King. “I think he is a very unique individual,” said Williams, adding that Musk had impressed him with his passion for engineering.
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However, Williams said he is also aware that Tesla is still producing a relatively small number of vehicles, but has plans to build as many as 500,000 electric vehicles annually by 2018. “We know they haven’t made their production (targets).”
“We’re not approaching this in adversarial way. We recognized that Tesla as a start-up. It’s not that we have a bone to pick with anybody. We just think people have the right to belong to a union,” said Williams.
He added healthy unions are critical to building a strong middle class in the United States and in countries such as Mexico, where government and corporate interests have combined to keeps wages low.
“I am interested in helping workers in Mexico. Mexico would be a great trading partner if they had free unions and the ability to raise wages. I think the companies are keeping down the wages,” Williams said.
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The UAW president said he also hopes to launch a fight in the U.S. that would limit corporations’ use of temporary workers, adding that companies, such as Nissan, are abusing the current law by hiring hundreds of temporary workers to staff factories in the U.S. so they don’t have to pay higher wages or for benefits.
“Nissan has all these temporary workers. They have no employment rights. To me that’s abuse. That’s so immoral. It is hard to comprehend why people would do that. I think this country needs to be checking its own morality and people need to be called out for it,” he said.
Williams also the union is not yet ready to endorse a Presidential candidate. The union will support the Democratic candidate, he added. The union did send a questionnaire to Republican candidates, asking for answers to specific policy question, but neither Donald Trump nor any of the other GOP candidates bothered to reply, according to Williams.
“I can tell you we sent out surveys to all the candidates. Only the Democrats responded. I was kind of surprised the Republicans didn’t answer our survey,” he said. Williams added he was not impressed with Donald Trump’s suggestion that the best way to create more jobs in the U.S. was to reduce wages.
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“I don’t know how that’s helping the middle class or American workers. We ruled him out real quick. He called his own destiny with us,” Williams said.