Tesla Inc. violated federal labor law when it fired a union supporter and moved to block a union organizing drive at its plant in Fremont, California, the National Labor Relations Board ruled this week.
In addition, the NLRB found Tesla and the company’s freewheeling CEO, Elon Musk, violated the law and ordered them to stop interfering with workers seeking to organize a union at the Fremont plant, handing a victory to the United Auto Workers. The ruling on union activity by employees also extends to any other installation operated by Tesla in the U.S.
The UAW began an organizing effort at Tesla more than five years ago and filed the unfair labor charges against the company in 2017 after security guards seized union literature and one of the leaders of the UAW effort inside Tesla was dismissed.
NLRB upholds previous ruling
An administrative law judge in California, in a sweeping decision, ruled in favor of the UAW in September 2019. But Tesla’s lawyers filed 166 challenges to the judge’s opinion and appealed to the full NLRB, which was dominated by pro-management and anti-union appointees selected by former President Donald Trump.
However, after 18 months of deliberation the NLRB, which is still dominated by Trump appointees, sided with the UAW ruling Tesla violated federal labor law.
In its ruling, the NLRB also ordered Musk to delete a three-year-old tweet warning employees they could lose their stock options if they opted to join the United Auto Workers, which had begun an organizing drive in Fremont. Compensation, including stock options, are subjects of contract negotiations under federal labor law.
Tesla and Musk also must rescind or revise the company’s confidentiality agreement imposed on Tesla employees in 2016 as the organizing drive appeared to pick up momentum and post notices in the Fremont plant that employees have the right to join a union or join with other employees to campaign for union representation.
In addition, Musk or a designated member of the Tesla board must hold a meeting of all employees in the California plant where they will be told they have the right to join a union.
Tesla also was ordered to stop interfering in employees’ rights to communicate with fellow workers about any campaign to form a union. It must rescind several now-illegal policies meant to obstruct organizing activities, including the distribution of pro-union literature.
Union hails decision
The UAW noted in a statement the NLRB decision comes three and a half years after Tesla fired production associate Richard Ortiz and threatened or disciplined other union supporters.
Ortiz must now be reinstated with back pay to the date of his October 2017 dismissal.
Tesla incurred no financial penalty for its conduct, the union also noted.
“This is a great victory for workers who have the courage to stand up and organize in a system that is currently stacked heavily in favor of employers like Tesla who have no qualms about violating the law,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, director of the UAW Organizing Department.
Estrada, however, also said the lengthy fight over the unlawful practices used by Musk and Tesla underscore the substantial shortcomings of existing federal labor laws.
“While we celebrate the justice in today’s ruling, it nevertheless highlights the substantial flaws in U.S. labor law. Here is a company that clearly broke the law and yet it is three years down the road before these workers achieved a modicum of justice,” Estrada said.