Tesla plant unionizing effort gains momentum in Calif.

Tesla has touted the number of factory jobs it has created in the U.S. The company's 5.3 million-square-foot Fremont, Calif., plant employs more than 6,000 workers. Photo credit: BLOOMBERG

Workers at Tesla Inc.’s Fremont, Calif., assembly plant are moving forward with efforts to unionize.

In a blog posted Thursday on Medium, Jose Moran, who claims to have worked at the factory for four years, wrote that workers were underpaid and overworked. He added that workers have contacted the UAW -- which has been reaching out to Tesla employees since last year  -- about their concerns.

“Injuries, poor morale, unfair promotions, high turnover and other issues aren’t just bad for workers -- they also impact the quality and speed of production,” Moran wrote. “They can’t be resolved without workers having a voice and being included in the process.”

UAW International spokesman Brian Rothenberg declined to comment, instead referring to President Dennis Williams’ previous remarks about Tesla.

Williams last year said that the union hopes to organize workers at the Tesla plant, noting that the UAW initially held off on an organizing push in Tesla’s early years because of the company’s status as a startup.

UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel told Automotive News in June that union staff have been communicating with workers at the plant. There was no indication at the time that the union had assigned organizing staff to Tesla.

“They’re supporting the workers and talking to the workers that are interested and seeing how that interest grows,” Casteel said.

The Fremont plant is the only U.S. plant owned by an American automaker that is not unionized. Along with factories owned and operated by Volkswagen in Chattanooga and Nissan in Canton, Miss., the Tesla factory is one of several high-profile assembly plants the UAW aims to organize.

Tesla vehicles being assembled by robots at the company's factory in Fremont, Calif., in July. Photo credit: REUTERS | JOE WHITE

The Tesla plant was previously represented by the UAW when it was home to a longtime joint venture between General Motors and Toyota, and later briefly operated only by Toyota.

Tesla has touted the number of factory jobs it has created in the U.S. The 5.3 million-square-foot Fremont plant employs more than 6,000 workers, and its battery Gigafactory in Nevada employs 3,000 construction workers and factory employees. In January, the automaker said it would expand capacity of the Gigafactory, adding 550 jobs

“This is not the first time we have been the target of a professional union organizing effort such as this,” a Tesla spokesman said in a statement.

In his blog post, Moran wrote that Tesla has responded to workers’ concerns by raising base pay in November. However, the compensation has not been enough to cover living expenses in the Bay Area, and employees have been afraid to speak out due to confidentiality agreements, he wrote.

In a letter to the California State Assembly dated Jan. 17, Tesla said the purpose of its nondisclosure agreement was to prevent employees from leaking product information ahead of release dates, and workers were free to discuss legal concerns or issues with wages and working conditions with government or third party agencies.


You can reach Katie Burke at kburke@crain.com

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