United Auto Workers (UAW) president Dennis Williams told the press on May 19 that his union is interested in representing the workers at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California. The 5.3 million square foot Tesla factory is the only U.S. assembly plant owned by an American automaker that is not represented by a union. Typically, workers at US plants operated by foreign companies do not have union representation.
The UAW’s interest in representing Tesla workers has been on the back burner because the company makes relatively few cars compared to other manufacturers. But now that Tesla has announced plans to ramp up production to 500,000 cars by 2018, the union is taking a closer look at the situation in Fremont.
“We’re watching that very closely,” Williams said. “We just believe workers ought to have a voice in the workplace and they ought to have collective bargaining rights.” He went on to say that the UAW is “not approaching this in an adversarial way.” He said he has met with Tesla CEO Elon Musk, but did not say specifically when or where that meeting took place. Nor did Williams say whether he discussed the possibility of a unionized workforce with Musk.
Williams described Musk as “creative” and a “very unique individual.” The UAW has long respected Tesla because of its status as a start-up company, but the company’s recently announced plans to significantly accelerate its production plans would make it the ninth largest seller of new vehicles in the United States. If Tesla succeeds at producing 500,000 cars a year in the near future, that would put it just behind Volkswagen and ahead of Mercedes and BMW.
Williams did reserve judgment on Tesla’s plans, however. “I don’t think they’ve ever met their mark yet on production,” he said. Tesla did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment, but Elon Musk has made it clear the he fully expects the company and its suppliers to be ready to begin full production as close to July 1, 2017 as possible. Musk says Tesla has learned valuable lessons from building the Model S and the Model X and that the company will hit its production target with the Model 3 without the delays that beset those other models.