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The Roots & Myths of the Tesla–Union Controversy

Controversy regarding Tesla and unionization started in 2018 when the UAW (the United Auto Workers union) claimed that Tesla fired a worker for trying to set up a union. We’ll get to that and other union-related actions and tweets in this article to provide much more context to this overarching discussion, a discussion that’s typically oversimplified with one or two broad claims.

Today, Tesla is still being punished for myths and propaganda on this topic, and FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) is still being spread about Elon Musk’s actions related to it.

In 2018, Elon responded to someone on Twitter who asked what the benefits of working for Tesla are. Elon pointed out that Tesla has always provided healthcare, hourly wages that are higher than union rates, and even Tesla stock. Also included are free drinks and snacks. Many seem to think that Tesla treats its employees rather harshly, but this seems like quite a compelling pitch. It was less than a month earlier that the Tesla–union controversy seemed to arise.

Elon Musk’s Tweets About Tesla Employees Unionizing

In 2018, Elon Musk shared his thoughts about unions in various replies to tweets accusing him of being anti-union. Joe Marshal asked Elon when he would allow workers to form a union, to which Elon replied,

“They can form a union whenever they want & there’s nothing I can do to stop them. California is a very pro-union state. They just don’t want to.”

This is a key thing that many critics seem to miss. It’s not up to Elon whether Tesla employees form a union or not. It’s up to employees. In fact, Elon and other Tesla execs are not legally allowed to interfere with employees creating a union.

Joe replied with an article detailing UAW accusations that Tesla fired workers who wanted to unionize. Keep in mind the year: 2018. Elon responded to this as well.

“About 2% of Tesla, incl salaried & hourly, union & non-union were let go in annual review. Only known union person fired was a guy who repeatedly threatened non-union supporters verbally & on social media & lied about it.”

In a report by Reveal, it was falsely claimed that Tesla didn’t have any yellow safety lines on the factor floor. When asked about hating the color yellow, which was a claim made by the report, Elon clarified:

“Tesla factory literally has miles of painted yellow lines & tape. Report about forklifts not beeping is also bs. These are both demonstrably false, but were reported as ‘facts’ by Reveal.”

Someone else replied that yellow lines are fine, but what about unions? And Elon said:

“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.” [Note: It was later determined by the National Labor Relations Board that this tweet violated labor laws and must be deleted.]

Again, Elon pointed out that the decision to unionize or not is out of his hands. That’s a choice for company workers to make. Though, he did get dinged by the National Labor Relations Board for discouraging unionization with that tweet.

Elon also pointed to a now-deleted tweet by Parker Malloy that he never stopped a union vote.

“I’ve never stopped a union vote nor removed a union. UAW abandoned this factory. Tesla arrived & gave people back their jobs. They haven’t forgotten UAW betrayed them. That’s why UAW can’t even get people to attend a free BBQ, let alone enough sigs for a vote.”

UAW Corruption

Earlier today, The Washington Post shared an opinion piece on the corruption that is threatening Detroit’s comeback story. The article discussed the crookedness of politicians and labor-union corruption both being greeted with a yawn and the attitude of “What else is new?”

When Walter Reuther was the president of UAW, it was regarded as a clean organization for decades. That image has been tarnished by former presidents Gary Jones and Dennis Williams, who are serving prison sentences for embezzling millions of dollars in union funds. The IRS found that they were part of a group of union officials that spent workers’ money on lavish entertainment, including extravagant meals, golf, and personal travel.

The IRS noted that between 2010 and 2018, Jones and other UAW officials submitted fraudulent expense forms seeking reimbursement from the UAW’s Detroit headquarters for spending on Region 5 leadership and training conferences. The IRS found that these conferences concealed hundreds of thousands of dollars in UAW funds spent on personal spending and lavish entertainment.

So, while the UAW was falsely accusing Tesla of trying to prevent employees from unionizing, their leaders were stealing money.

Another example of corruption was shared by WardsAuto, which noted that Stellantis member FCA was fined $30 million in corruption scandals. Stellantis was one of the automakers invited to that sweet little White House EV press event recently.

In March 2021, FCA pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to violate the Labor Management Relations Act. FCA wanted to win UAW leaders’ favor by giving them millions of dollars in gifts and cash. FCA conspired to make illegal payments to UAW officers who would use the funds for personal expenses. Mortgages, extravagant entertainment, lavish parties for the UAW International Executive Board — nothing was off limits. Italian-made shotgun designer shoes, clothing, and other items were bought with credit cards issued by the UAW-Chrysler National Training Center.

Final Thoughts

I think that the UAW is trying to punish Tesla employees for not wanting to unionize. It seems to be attacking the very people it says it wants to “protect.”

Tesla pay rates are higher than UAW pay rates. This seems to not matter to President Biden, who is a union guy. There’s nothing wrong with supporting unions in general — they are supposed to be a good thing, after all. The idea of making the workplace fair, safe, and more competitive in terms of pay is actually a good thing. However, reality can be messy.

UAW’s past attempts to tarnish Tesla due to Tesla’s employees not wanting to unionize, coupled with its power in the White House, shows that it really doesn’t care about the employees at all.

 
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Written By

Johnna Crider is a Louisiana native who likes crawfish, gems, minerals, EVs, and advocates for sustainability. Johnna is also the host of GettingStoned.online, a jewelry artisan and a $TSLA shareholder.

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