It’s no secret that Tesla CEO Elon Musk is annoyed with President Joe Biden. The president frequently fails to mention Tesla when discussing electric vehicle production in the US, instead referring to Ford’s and GM’s comparatively nascent efforts. Musk, who has a tendency to hurl juvenile insults, has called Biden a “damp sock puppet” for the repeated slights.
Now, having gotten nowhere with insults, Musk appears to be trying a different tack.
Biden has made it obvious that he would like to see EVs made in the US by union labor. His administration is pushing for union- and American-made EVs to receive an additional $4,500 tax credit above the $7,500 offered for others. Ford, GM, and Stellantis (which now owns Chrysler) all have unionized factories. Tesla does not.
That might explain Musk’s sudden reversal of his previous anti-union stance. “I’d like hereby to invite UAW [United Auto Workers] to hold a union vote at their convenience,” he tweeted last night. “Tesla will do nothing to stop them.”
The National Labor Relations Board found that both Musk and Tesla violated the law on multiple occasions by interfering with union organizing at its Fremont, California, assembly plant. Musk was ordered to delete a tweet that suggested employees would no longer receive stock options if they voted in favor of forming a union.
“Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union,” Musk tweeted in 2018. “Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?” (Tesla appealed the ruling to delete the tweet, which is why it’s still posted.)
The NLRB also ordered Tesla to rehire a worker it had fired and give back pay to another, both of whom had been disciplined for protected union-related activity. An administrative law judge also found that Tesla illegally prevented employees from handing out pro-union leaflets in Tesla’s Fremont factory parking lot.
Since the last union-organizing drive at the Fremont plant in 2017, lawsuits and investigations have revealed a workplace that’s allegedly toxic for women and people of color.
A lawsuit filed in November by night-shift worker Jessica Barraza says that “multiple times a week, male co-workers brush up against Ms. Barraza’s back-side (including with their groins) or unnecessarily touch her under the pretext of working together in close quarters.” The suit says that Barraza has also been subject to verbal harassment, with men making comments like, “‘She’s got fat titties,’ ‘She’s got cakes!,’ ‘That bitch hella thick,’ ‘Go ahead, sexy,’ ‘Damn, girl!,’ ‘She has a fat ass,’ ‘Oh, she looks like a coke bottle,’ and ‘Girl has an onion booty.’”
Barraza said she had hoped to work her way up the ranks at Tesla but that the constant harassment had left her with post-traumatic stress disorder, forcing her to take a medical leave. She repeatedly complained to managers and human resources, “who failed to protect her,” the lawsuit says. As a condition of her employment, Barraza signed an arbitration agreement that is “unenforceable,” the suit alleges.
Last month, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing sued Tesla, saying that the agency had fielded “hundreds of complaints from workers” over working conditions at the same factory. After investigating, the “DFEH found evidence that Tesla’s Fremont factory is a racially segregated workplace where Black workers are subjected to racial slurs and discriminated in job assignments, discipline, pay, and promotion creating a hostile work environment,” Kevin Kish, the agency’s director, said in a statement.
In a blog post, Tesla refuted the allegations, saying that the company “strongly opposes all forms of discrimination and harassment.”
When contacted by Ars, the UAW declined to comment for this article. However, the union pointed to Tesla’s ongoing appeal of the NLRB rulings that found the company in violation of the law—the implication being that if Tesla is serious about welcoming a union-organizing drive, it would begin by dropping the appeal and following the NLRB’s orders.