One day after employees at a Tesla plant in Buffalo, New York, announced a unionization drive, Elon Musk’s company fired dozens of the workers at the factory, including at least one union organizer, Bloomberg first reported. “I feel blindsided, I got COVID and was out of the office, then I had to take a bereavement leave. I returned to work, was told I was exceeding expectations, and then Wednesday came along,” Arian Berek, a Tesla Workers United member who was among those fired, said in a statement. “I strongly feel this is in retaliation to the committee announcement, and it’s shameful.”
Organizers revealed the firings in a “charge against employer” filing to the National Labor Relations Board, according to The New York Times. Tesla “terminated these individuals in retaliation for union activity and to discourage union activity,” read the Wednesday filing, which calls for the board to block the dismissals. Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sara Costantino, an organizing committee member who is still employed at the Buffalo plant, said the firings were designed to stymie unionization efforts. “We’re angry. This won’t slow us down. This won’t stop us,” she said in a statement, per The Washington Post. “They want us to be scared, but I think they just started a stampede. We can do this. But I believe we will do this.”
Tesla Workers United said the company also instituted a new policy that bars employees from recording conversations at the plant without the consent of every participant. “This policy violates federal labor law and also flouts New York’s one-party consent law to record conversations,” the group said, per Reuters.
The union campaign was announced on Tuesday morning by an organizing committee of 25 employees at the car manufacturer’s Autopilot division, calling for better pay, sick leave, and lessening monitoring practices.
Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, has a history of running afoul of the NLRB. Last year, the board ruled that the company had violated the rights of its workers by prohibiting them from donning union insignia in the workplace. In 2021, it found that Tesla had illicitly fired an employee attempting to unionize its Fremont, California, location, a massive plant where years of organizing efforts have run aground. And in 2018, Musk appeared to openly threaten employees who wanted to form union with benefit cuts. “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted,” he tweeted at the time. “But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare.”
The NLRB ordered Tesla to make Musk delete the post, but the tweet remains up to this day.
In another tweet, he dared the United Auto Workers to approach Tesla employees, writing last year, “I’d like hereby to invite UAW to hold a union vote at their convenience. Tesla will do nothing to stop them.” The post was in response to a Twitter thread on the company’s non-union status and the relocation of Tesla’s head office to Texas, a state that prohibits union security agreements between employers and labor unions.
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