By Evan Henerson

They claim to work for a company that builds the world’s #1 car, but employees at Tesla Motors think they’re getting decidedly #2 treatment from the company as they discuss efforts to unionize.

Reports of discontent among workers at Tesla’s 10,000 employee factory in Fremont, CA first started bubbling in February. Workers have taken issue with a confidentiality agreement which, they claim, violates their rights to form a union. They have filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board.

At the end of March, employees were reprimanded for improperly distributing a letter written by employee Jose Moran which discusses contact with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and suggests the time is more than ripe for organizing. 

From Moran’s letter, which is titled “Time for Tesla to listen”:

“Most Tesla production workers earn between $17 and $21 hourly. The average auto worker in the nation earns $25.58 an hour, and lives in a much less expensive region.

I think our management team would agree that our plant doesn’t function as well as it could, but until now they’ve underestimated the value of listening to employees. In a company of our size, an “open-door policy” simply isn’t a solution. We need better organization in the plant, and I, along with many of my coworkers, believe we can achieve that by coming together and forming a union.

Many of us have been talking about unionizing, and have reached out to the United Auto Workers for support. The company has begun to respond. In November, they offered a raise to employees’ base pay — the first we’ve seen in a very long time.

I’m glad that someone is standing up for Tesla workers, and we need to stand up for ourselves too. The issues go much deeper than just fair pay. 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. They can’t be resolved without workers having a voice and being included in the process.”

CEO Elon Musk apparently blew a high tech gasket when he read that letter.  He disputed the charges, accused Moran of being a union plant, said that unionizing would worsen rather than improve working conditions and said he planned to install a roller coaster and frozen yogurt machines in the factory. 

From Musk’s letter, as leaked by BuzzFeed:

“Reducing excess overtime and improving safety are extremely important. This is why we hired thousands of additional team members to create a third shift, which has reduced the burden on everyone. Moreover, since the beginning of Tesla production at Fremont five years ago, there have been dedicated health and safety experts covering the factory and we hold regular safety meetings with operations leaders.

A CNBC article notes that NLRB charges are relatively commonplace within the industry and adds that all of the charges filed with the NLRB against Tesla in the last six years have either been withdrawn or dismissed.

However, Tesla workers in Germany are threatening to go on strike, with some of them arguing that they are underpaid. IG Metall, the German union representing the workers, says the planned strike could impact Tesla's ability to begin production of its newest car, the Model 3, in July, on time for its scheduled release in late 2017.

Read more here.  



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