It would be pretty difficult to paint Tesla CEO Elon Musk as a union-busting boss now. In a recent comment, Musk formally invited the United Auto Workers (UAW) to hold a union vote at Tesla’s California plant “at their convenience.” The CEO also assured the UAW that Tesla would do nothing to stop them.
Musk’s comments came as one of a series of responses to KISS member Gene Simmons, who urged US President Joe Biden to recognize Tesla even if its workers are non-union. The Tesla CEO later highlighted that ultimately, the real challenge for Tesla is that the Bay Area has negative unemployment. This meant that if Tesla doesn’t treat its workers well, its employees would simply leave.
“Our real challenge is Bay Area has negative unemployment, so if we don’t treat and compensate our (awesome) people well, they have many other offers and will just leave! I’d like hereby to invite UAW to hold a union vote at their convenience. Tesla will do nothing to stop them,” Musk wrote on Twitter.
In a way, Musk’s invitation to the UAW may prove to be a strategic move for Tesla. On the one hand, a union vote could once and for all determine if employees at the company’s California facilities prefer their current compensation plan or if they wish to be represented by the UAW. On the other hand, it would likely help end the narrative that Musk is a union-busting boss that does what he can to stop his workers from joining the UAW.
That being said, securing a successful union vote among Tesla’s Fremont Factory employees might be quite tricky. The UAW has a long history in the Fremont plant, having represented employees in the factory from its days as a GM plant all the way to its days as NUMMI. Unfortunately for NUMMI’s unionized workers, their membership with the UAW did not help much as Toyota pulled out of the facility and GM closed the plant following its bankruptcy in 2009.
The closure of the NUMMI factory was not well received by the plan’s unionized workers. During a meeting between UAW officials and NUMMI workers, discussions became so heated that a physical altercation nearly happened. The Fremont Factory’s workers today, while not members of the UAW, are given Tesla stock, which has resulted in some employees accumulating millions because of their stock options.
For now, at least, the ball is in the UAW’s court.
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