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Tesla factory workers intensify unionization efforts, file charges with National Labor Board

Tesla has dismissed charges filed by the Unfair Labor Practice with the National Labor Relations Board by two employees as “entirely without merit,” stating that it will respond to the allegations as part of the NLRB process.

In the latest chapter of the fight to unionize the Tesla Fremont factory, the United Autoworkers Union is again attempting to sway employees to the cause by filing an unfair labor practice charge, alleging illegal surveillance, coercion, intimidation and prevention of worker communications by Tesla in an effort to prevent or otherwise hinder unionization of the Fremont factory.

In response to past attempts by the UAW to influence workers at the Fremont factory to form a union, Tesla CEO Elon Musk made his pitch to employees against unionization in a letter to employees where he extolled the benefits Tesla was already providing without a union. The basis behind his argument hinged largely on the valuation of Tesla stock issued to employees and the subsequent increase in price of that stock.

Tesla was called to task in the charges for what is being characterized as an overly broad confidentiality agreement. Tesla has always operated more like a Silicon Valley technology company than a car manufacturer, and its company policy on confidentiality reflects that of technology companies that produce highly competitive, industry shifting tech that are often bound by strict deadlines.



In the midst of leading the disruption of several industries, while making headlines for every move the company makes, it comes as no surprise that Tesla opted for an overly broad confidentiality agreement. However, the confidentiality agreement was deemed to be so broad that the company was contacted by five members of the California legislature and a number of organizations in the Bay Area in a request to loosen up wording of the agreement and ensure it did not infringe upon employee rights. According to a report by Capital and Main, the statement currently includes language requiring confidentiality in relation to “everything that you work on, learn about or observe in your work about Tesla.”

The new charges also call out Tesla for alleged violations in several specific areas, one of which was preventing the distribution of flyers by employees at shift change on company property. After several workers handed out literature about unionization at the factory in February, Tesla fired back with a new policy stating that workers “were not allowed to pass out any literature unless it was pre-approved by the Employer.” The charges make a plea that employees should have the right to bring up issues and to talk about them amongst themselves as a means of driving towards resolution.

The charges will be reviewed by the NLRB which will make a determination after gathering input from all parties involved.

These charges highlight the challenge Tesla faces as it seeks to ramp up factory operations as part of the Model 3 production ramp. With all hands on deck to deliver Model 3, Tesla has its work cut out for it as it seeks to balance the rights, needs and morale of its employees with the needs of the business.

Here’s the full text of Musk’s company wide email that was published by TechCrunch in February that discusses unionization efforts taking place at the factory. We’ve also obtained a copy of Tesla’s confidentiality agreement to employees which we’ve embedded below.

For Tesla to become and remain one of the great companies of the 21st century, we must have an environment that is as safe, fair and fun as possible. It is incredibly important to me that you look forward to coming to work every day. For that, we must be a fair and just company – the only kind worth creating.

This is vital to succeed in our mission to accelerate the advent of a clean, sustainable energy future. The forces arrayed against us are many and incredibly powerful. This is David vs Goliath if David were six inches tall! Only by being smarter, faster and working well as a tightly integrated team do we have any chance of success. We should never forget the history of car startups originating in the United States: dozens have gone bankrupt and only two, Tesla and Ford, have not. Despite the odds being strongly against us, my faith in you is why I am confident that we will succeed.

That is why I was so distraught when I read the recent blog post promoting the UAW, which does not share our mission and whose true allegiance is to the giant car companies, where the money they take from employees in dues is vastly more than they could ever make from Tesla.

The tactics they have resorted to are disingenuous or outright false. I will address their underhanded attacks below. While this discussion focuses on Fremont, these same principles apply to every Tesla facility worldwide.

Safety First

The workplace issue that comes before any other is safety. If you do not have your health, then nothing else matters. Simply due to size and bad luck, there will always be some injuries in a company with over 30,000 employees, but our goal is simple: to have as close to zero injuries as possible and be the safest factory in the auto industry by far. The Tesla executive team and I are absolutely committed to this goal.

That is why I was particularly troubled by the safety claim in last week’s blog post, which said: “A few months ago, six out of eight people in my work team were out on medical leave at the same time due to various work-related injuries. I hear the ergonomics are even more severe in other areas of the factory.”

Obviously, this cannot be true: if three quarters of his team suddenly went on medical leave, we would not be able to operate that part of the factory. Furthermore, if things were really even worse in other departments, that would mean something like 80% or more of the factory would be out on injury, production would drop to virtually nothing and the parking lot would be almost empty. As you know firsthand, we have the *opposite* problem – there is never enough room to park! In fact, we are working at top speed to build more parking. Also, hopefully our darn BART train station will open before all hell freezes over!

After looking into this claim, not only was it untrue for this individual’s team, it was untrue for any of the hundreds of teams in the factory.

That said, reducing excess overtime and improving safety are extremely important. This is why we hired thousands of additional team members to create a third shift, which has reduced the burden on everyone. Moreover, since the beginning of Tesla production at Fremont five years ago, there have been dedicated health and safety experts covering the factory and we hold regular safety meetings with operations leaders. Since the majority of the injuries in the factory are ergonomic in nature, we have an ergonomics department focused exclusively on this issue.

The net result is that since January 1st, our total recordable incident rate (TRIR) is under 3.3, which is less than half the industry average of 6.7.

Of course, the goal is to have as close to zero injuries as humanly possible, so we need to keep improving. If you have a safety concern or an idea on how to make things better, please let your manager, safety representative or HR partner know. You can also send an anonymous note through the Integrity Hotline (this applies broadly to any problems you notice at our company) or you can email safety@tesla.com.

Compensation

At Tesla, we believe it is important for everyone to be an owner of the company. This is your company. That is why, unlike other car companies, everyone is awarded shares and you get to buy stock at a discount compared to the public through the employee stock purchase program. Last year, stock equity grants were increased significantly and it will happen again later this year once Model 3 achieves high volume.

The chart below contrasts the total comp received by a Tesla production team member who started on January 1, 2013 against the total comp received over the same period at GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler. A four year period is used because that’s the vesting length of a new hire equity grant. I believe the equity gain over the next four years will be similar. As shown below, a Tesla team member earned between $70,000 and $100,000 more in total compensation than the employees at other US auto companies!

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Work Hours

Another issue raised in the UAW blog was hours worked. First, I want to recognize how hard you worked to make our company successful. Those hours mattered to you, to your family and to our company, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate them.

However, the pace needs to be sustainable. This is why the third shift was established and why we created alternate work schedules based on feedback from various teams in the factory.

These changes have had a big impact. The average amount of hours worked by production team members this year is about 43 hours per week. The percentage of overtime hours has declined by almost 50% since the super tough time we had last year achieving rate on the Model X, which is probably the hardest car to build in history. What an amazing accomplishment! It is also a lesson learned, which is why Model 3 is designed to be dramatically easier to manufacture.

Fun

As we get closer to being a profitable company, we will be able to afford more and more fun things. For example, as I mentioned at the last company talk, we are going to hold a really amazing party once Model 3 reaches volume production later this year. There will also be little things that come along like free frozen yogurt stands scattered around the factory and my personal favorite: a Tesla electric pod car roller coaster (with an optional loop the loop route, of course!) that will allow fast and fun travel throughout our Fremont campus, dipping in and out of the factory and connecting all the parking lots. It’s going to get crazy good ?

Thanks again for all your effort and I look forward to working alongside you to create an amazing future!

Elon

Tesla-Employee-Confidentiality-Agreement
Tesla factory workers intensify unionization efforts, file charges with National Labor Board

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