Workers at Tesla Inc.’s Fremont, Calif., assembly plant have filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the company of illegally surveilling and coercing workers seeking unionization.
Four separate charges were filed last week to the NLRB, including one that lists the UAW as a charging party against Tesla. Each of the filings charges Tesla with instituting illegal “coercive” rules and actions, including surveillance, and changing the company’s employment terms and conditions.
The charges come amid a high-profile fight over unionization at the plant, with workers alleging unfair working conditions and Tesla CEO Elon Musk arguing unionization would be antithetical to Tesla’s mission.
The NLRB documents, first reported on last week by the online publication Capital & Main, allege Tesla of violating the National Labor Relations Act in February by “intimidating, creating the appearance of surveillance and conducting surveillance” on workers either distributing or receiving pro-union literature.
One of those workers is listed as Jose Moran, the Tesla employee who in February wrote a blog post claiming low pay and long hours as reasons for Fremont workers to unionize. Musk quickly shot back at Moran’s allegations, accusing him of being paid by the UAW and sending an email to employees disputing Moran's claims.
“I know my rights, and I know that we acted within them,” said Jonathan Galescu, one of the employees at the Tesla plant that filed the charges, in a statement. “I’m hopeful that the company will take a more positive view of workers’ opinions and feedback and that management and workers can improve company processes -- and safety -- by working together.”
The NLRB’s office in Oakland, Calif., is assigned to investigate the charges. According to the NLRB’s website, it typically takes between seven and 12 weeks for that process to take place, during which time most charges are settled, withdrawn or dismissed. The charges against Tesla were filed from April 18 through April 20.
Requests for comment from the UAW were not immediately returned. A Tesla spokesperson said the company is aware of the NLRB filings.
"Tesla believes the [unfair labor practice] allegations are entirely without merit and will be responding as part of the NLRB process," the spokesperson said in a statement.
The UAW has had its eye on the Tesla plant since at least June, when Automotive News reported the union had begun reaching out to workers to gauge interest in unionizing.
Organizing the Tesla factory, the only non-unionized assembly plant owned by a U.S. automaker, would give the UAW a rare victory in organizing at auto plants outside of its traditional stronghold in the Rust Belt. For years, it has tried and so far failed to unionize Nissan’s Canton, Miss., assembly plant and Volkswagen’s Chattanooga, Tenn., plant.
The charges claim Tesla’s confidentiality agreement “coerces and intimidates employees from freely exercising their rights to engage in concerted and union activity,” the workers allege.
Tesla bars workers from discussing Tesla products with the news media or writing about their work on social media, among other restrictions. The confidentiality agreement has proven to be controversial for Tesla, which has said it is in line with agreements at other auto plants or tech companies designed to protect trade secrets. However, labor activists and others see it as being too far reaching, and five California state lawmakers sent a letter to Tesla earlier this year urging the company to revise the agreement to comply with labor law.
“You can’t fix problems if you’re not allowed to talk about them,” said Michael Sanchez, another Tesla employee who filed charges, in a statement. “The confidentiality agreement we were required to sign went too far. We should have the right to distribute information to our co-workers without intimidation.”
A Tesla spokesperson said the agreement is designed solely to protect its proprietary information.
"Our confidentiality agreement has nothing to do with the rights of workers to openly discuss organizing efforts -- something that is obvious from the document itself and disproved by the fact that a small number of active Tesla employees are currently engaging in this very behavior without retaliation," the spokesperson said.
Tesla is also facing pressure from organized labor in Germany, where labor union IG Metall has threatened to organize a strike at a subsidiary of Tesla, citing unfair wages. Tesla said it is working with the union and does not anticipate any impact on production of the Model 3, set to begin later this year.
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