As Tesla faces continued labor efforts in Europe over whether the company’s German Gigafactory will sign a collective labor agreement, the automaker has largely doubled down on the idea that its workers are better off being independent from a union’s influence. However, local officials have recently explained why they think an agreement could be mutually beneficial for workers and for Tesla overall, though they emphasize that it’s ultimately up to the workers.
Earlier this month, multiple workers at Tesla’s Gigafactory Berlin, including the works council leader, defended the company’s avoidance of a labor agreement, saying the automaker’s close proximity to the workers made it easier to make routine changes and find solutions for workers.
In recent statements to Teslarati, an official from the Brandenburg Ministry of Economy, Labor and Energy has noted how social partnership between workers and unions contributes to the German economy and to companies overall, while the autonomy of employees to choose remains an important part of the equation.
“It would be good if IG Metall and Tesla could agree on a collective labor agreement or at least talk about it,” said Felix Dollase, a spokesperson for the Brandenburg Ministry of Economy, Labor and Energy, in an email to Teslarati. The statements closely echoed those from Brandenburg Minister Jörg Steinbach made earlier this month.
“Like Social Partnership as a whole, this would have many advantages for both sides. Social partnership is partly responsible for prosperity. It has been creating conditions for economic growth for decades and is also responsible for a well-developed welfare state,” Dollase added.
In Germany, it is up to each individual worker to decide whether they want to join a union, and the greater the proportion of union-represented workers, the greater the strength of the union in that company, as Dollase clarified in the email. In addition, he explained that workers have the right to elect and facilitate a works council, which can’t be taken away by the company, and unions are allowed to offer up an electoral candidacy list during elections.
The result, Dollase says, is an effective system of businesses that play an important role in Germany’s economy and society. However, he also says individual autonomy in choosing whether or not to join a union plays an equal role in this process.
“This is not an obstacle for productivity, but increases it, and makes an important contribution to stabilizing society and the economy,” Dollase added. “This is why Social Partnership is and remains an important part of our economic system. But it is also characterized by the autonomy of the social partners.”
Tesla’s Giga Berlin elected a works council in 2022, though IG Metall has accused it of being comprised primarily of lower-level leadership workers who are close to executive management (via Wall Street Journal). The leader of the current works council at Giga Berlin recently also opposed a collective labor agreement with IG Metall in a report, saying that union influence would make the company lose its agility.
“We are close to the workforce,” said Michaela Schmitz, leader of Giga Berlin’s works council. “Our agility will be lost if we are influenced from outside.”
“We are focusing on ourselves in order to find solutions for our employees quickly and without unnecessary escalation and thus make changes happen significantly faster,” said Andre Thierig, senior director of manufacturing at Tesla’s Giga Berlin, in the same piece.
As of writing, Tesla and IG Metall have not responded to Teslarati‘s requests for comment on the ongoing labor efforts.
The statements come as Tesla faces strikes in Sweden, lodged by union IF Metall, and including sympathy strikes from other entities. Despite IF Metall’s attempts to encourage unions around the world to target Tesla, including IG Metall, the German union highlighted autonomy then too, noting the importance of individual workers having the choice as to whether or not they should join a union.
“If IG Metall got to decide, Tesla’s employees would have a collective agreement,” said IG Metall spokesperson Markus Sievers in a statement last month about the encouragement to join strike efforts. “But the initiative must come from the employees.”
One Tesla Sweden worker recently spoke out after being expelled from IF Metall, due to his unwillingness to join the strike. The worker, who asked to remain anonymous, said he is facing “harassment” from the union, adding that he feels “terrified” of them as they “try to make it difficult” for workers. Operationally, the Tesla Sweden employee explains, work has not changed much, despite the labor union’s efforts.
“The main reason is that I care about the environment and enjoy my job,” the worker said as to why he won’t join the strike. “And I care a lot about our customers too. I want customers to feel safe choosing Tesla.”
Despite this, IG Metall said in October that Tesla workers at Giga Berlin were joining the union in droves, largely due to health and safety concerns. Last January, the union also claimed that workers weren’t getting enough time for “leisure, family and recovery,” once again emphasizing that it thinks Tesla needs a union in Germany.
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