UAW targets Tesla in future plans to bargain with ‘Big Five or Six’

Credit: UAW

The United Auto Workers (UAW) has successfully agreed on tentative contracts with Ford, General Motors (GM) and Stellantis after over six weeks of strikes. However, the union’s president now says that the next round of contract negotiations will include more than just the Big Three, highlighting desires to unionize other automakers like Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and others.

UAW President Shawn Fain said on Sunday that the next round of bargaining, set for 2028 when contracts expire again, will include more than just the Big Three, instead including a “Big Five or Big Six,” as detailed in a report from Bloomberg. The statements came after it has been widely speculated that Fain and the UAW might target Tesla next now that the union has come to tentative agreements with Ford, Stellantis and GM.

“One of our biggest goals coming out of this historic contract victory is to organize like we’ve never organized before,” Fain said. “When we return to the bargaining table in 2028, it won’t just be with a Big Three, but with a Big Five or Big Six.”

Earlier this month, Fain also called workers at Tesla, Toyota, Honda and others “UAW members of the future,” highlighting his ambitions to boost membership to include the automakers.

UAW President: Tesla workers are union “members of the future”

Tesla and other automakers, such as Toyota and Volkswagen, have U.S. facilities, though the UAW does not represent workers at those sites. Tesla is not a surprise target for the UAW, being the world’s most valuable automaker and the dominant market leader in electric vehicles (EVs), along with employing tens of thousands of U.S. workers in California, Texas, Nevada and New York.

According to a person familiar with the matter in the Bloomberg report, Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, has a UAW organizing committee, and its members are actively talking to workers about the benefits of unionization and collective bargaining. The person also said that the UAW has shared its commitment to offering any needed resources for that campaign.

However, past unionization attempts at Tesla have failed, and CEO Elon Musk has been outspoken about his disdain for unions on many occasions. Last year, Musk invited the UAW to hold a vote at its Fremont factory, though it never took place.

Labor efforts in other industries show that the landscape has changed since one Tesla worker at the Fremont factory went public with attempts to have the UAW unionize the plant in 2017. At the time, Musk also opposed the attempt, calling the union drive “morally outrageous,” and the campaign faded away after a few years.

“The UAW would love to get into Tesla, but I don’t think they have a chance,” said former Fremont employee Mark Eberley, who worked on a UAW drive at Tesla prior to his departure in 2020.

Others who previously worked at Tesla told Bloomberg that corruption scandals at the UAW and the switch to become a non-union factory when the automaker purchased the plant in 2010 were both viewed as liabilities to a unionization effort. In 2020, former UAW President Dennis Williams pleaded guilty to conspiracy to embezzle union funds after serving as the group’s leader from 2014 to 2018.

Despite the scandal, Fain and the UAW’s success in coming to a tentative agreement with the Big Three comes at a time when several other labor efforts have also taken shape. Additionally, Gallup data shows that the U.S. public has shifted in its views on unions since the last unionization efforts at Tesla. While just over half of Americans reported approving of labor unions in 2016, that number has risen to roughly 67 percent in 2023.

“Any effort to organize Tesla would be a battle royale,” said Seth Harris, President Joe Biden’s former deputy director at the National Economic Council. “The UAW is showing itself to be a militant, well-organized force.”

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UAW targets Tesla in future plans to bargain with ‘Big Five or Six’
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