Elon Musk anti-union tweet spurs labour law violation charge

Jeremy B White
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet that the union 'did nada for job security' during the recession: REUTERS/Joe Skipper

An autoworkers’ union has accused Tesla of violating labour law after CEO Elon Musk questioned unionisation in a series of tweets.

While deriding as inaccurate a report by investigative outlet Reveal detailing alleged safety lapses at the electric carmaker’s California plant, Mr Musk singled out the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural lmplement Workers of America (UAW) union for criticism and suggested employees could surrender stock options if they organised.

“Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. 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”, Mr Musk wrote on Twitter earlier this week.

That statement drew a charge of violating labour law from the UAW, which said in an official filing with the National Labor Relations Board that Mr Musk had transgressed the National Labor Relations Act “by threatening to take away employee stock options in retaliation for Tesla employees engaging in protected union activity”.

A spokesman for Tesla said Mr Musk’s tweet was not intended to suppress organising, saying the CEO was trying to distinguish union benefits from Tesla offering stock options in the belief that it is “critical that all employees be owners of Tesla so that everyone is on the same team”.

“Elon’s tweet was simply a recognition of the fact that unlike Tesla, we’re not aware of a single UAW-represented automaker that provides stock options or restricted stock units to their production employees, and UAW organizers have consistently dismissed the value of Tesla equity as part of our compensation package”, the spokesman said in an email.

A representative for the labour board declined to comment.

The charge adds to a list of labour-related allegations levelled against Tesla, which is also confronting deepening scrutiny from investors as it burns through cash.

Tesla is already facing a National Labor Relations Board case spurred by employees alleging that the company sought to discourage them from organising. A hearing in that case is scheduled for June. A Tesla spokesperson said “there is no merit to any” of the allegations.

“We have over 37,000 individuals working towards a mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy, and we care about creating a great culture and future for our employees”, the spokesperson said.

California’s workplace safety investigator said earlier this year it had opened an investigation into workplace conditions. In confirming the inquiry, a California Occupational Safety and Health Administration representative echoed the allegations contained in Reveal’s reports by saying the board “takes seriously reports of workplace hazards and allegations of employers’ underreporting recordable work-related injuries and illnesses”.