Labor Update: The Union Drive at Tesla’s Buffalo Factory
CEO & Founder
During a decade that has seen workers unionize for the first time in traditionally nonunion industries and companies like Google, Amazon, and Starbucks, another first is on the horizon.
On February 15, 2023, workers at a Buffalo, New York, Tesla facility (Gigafactory 2) announced their intention to unionize. If successful, it would be the first Tesla location to organize.
Tesla Workers Stand Up for Their Rights
Nearly 800 workers in the Tesla Autopilot division at the Buffalo facility have formed Tesla Workers United, which is seeking to organize with Rochester Regional Joint Board of Workers United (RRJB).
“We believe unionizing will give us a voice in our workplace that we feel has been ignored to this point,” Tesla Workers United said in a February 2023 press release. “We are only asking for a seat in the car that we helped build.”
Organizers cite excessive productivity monitoring, poor pay, and inflexible workplace policies as the key issues they seek to address. And they believe they will have the numbers to win a union election.
“Based on the way people talked in the last several months, I don’t think drumming up support will be all that difficult, honestly,” says worker and organizer Nick Piazza.
The Uphill Battle for Tesla Workers United
What will be difficult: overcoming the union-busting campaign the company has begun to mount.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk is vocally anti-union. Expect Tesla management to put the pressure on workers to reject the union, if it even gets to a vote.
Previous Organizing Efforts
Thus far, Tesla workers have tried and failed twice to bring a unionization effort to the point of the NLRB election.
Musk “has been overtly contemptuous of unions,” Riley Gutiérrez McDermid reported for TheStreet in 2022. The company’s prior activity, McDermid reported, includes:
- Hiring a public relations firm to monitor talks of organizing during a unionization push at the company back in 2017.
- Musk threatening workers’ rights to unionize on Twitter, to which the NLRB responded by requiring him to remove the tweet in 2018.
Several Buffalo Workers Fired
The day after the group of workers announced their intention to unionize, the company fired a group of about 30 workers. While the company maintains the firings were a result of poor performance, the union asserts the firings were a direct result of participation in union activity.
In response to the firings, the RRJB has filed a complaint with the NLRB, claiming Tesla “terminated these individuals in retaliation for union activity and to discourage union activity.” The union is seeking an injunction to ensure workers can exercise their right to organize.
New Company Rules About Recording Meetings
At the same time of the firings, the company also sent out an email detailing a new policy that requires employees to get permission from all meeting participants before they can record meetings. The union says the policy breaks federal and state laws and is an attempt to suppress their efforts.
Such measures seem to forewarn of a tough battle for Tesla Workers United, but it’s one the workers are ready to fight. “We’re angry,” says Sara Costantino, a Tesla employee and member of the union’s organizing committee. “This won’t slow us down. This won’t stop us.”
The hard part for the union may be maintaining enthusiasm and support as the company pushes back and drags out the process. To keep everyone informed and engaged, organizers can utilize a communication platform like UnionTrack® ENGAGE®, which makes it easy to share real-time updates through different channels, such as email, text messages, and social media.
Images used under license from Shutterstock.com.