Tesla Inc.'s fraught relationship with the UAW may soon come to a head.
As part of its effort to organize the electric automaker's Fremont, Calif., factory, the union has filed a string of unfair labor practice charges with the National Labor Relations Board. The complaints, grouped with reports of working conditions at the plant and a changing political environment, could soon turn up the heat on Tesla as it deals with production issues.
"This is the beginning of something," said Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California, Berkeley. "They're provoking ongoing conflict with a significant number of workers at a point where Tesla needs it the least."
The UAW's efforts in Fremont garnered attention in February 2017, when Tesla employee Jose Moran published a blog post detailing harsh working conditions, adding that workers had contacted the union as a result.
Since then, more reports of on-site injuries have emerged, as well as lawsuits documenting employee discrimination. The UAW has also filed charges with the NLRB, alleging Tesla intimidated pro-union employees and forced them to sign nondisclosure agreements barring discussion of plant conditions.
The most recent unfair labor practice complaint, filed with the NLRB in February, claims Tesla disciplined or terminated employees for participating in union activities in the past six months, according to documents obtained by Automotive News via public records request. In October, the automaker fired 700 workers, which Tesla CEO Elon Musk said was part of routine performance reviews.
"You've got a turning point here," Shaiken said. "Tesla, which has been so innovative in so many ways, seems to be reverting to 1930s-style union avoidance in the way it's dealing with the UAW."