Tesla employees are talking to the United Auto Workers about unionizing to advocate for higher pay and shorter hours, citing the high cost of living in the San Francisco Bay Area and work-related injuries.
Management has already tried to shut the conversation down, according to a Medium post by Jose Moran, a Tesla production associate.
“Recently, every worker was required to sign a confidentiality policy that threatens consequences if we exercise our right to speak out about wages and working conditions,” Moran wrote on Medium. “Thankfully, five members of the California State Assembly have written a letter to Tesla questioning the policy and calling for a retraction.”
The UAW has been trying to get Tesla workers on board for years, but was unable to make headway with CEO Elon Musk. The union then started lobbying individuals last summer. An anonymous Facebook group, A Fair Future At Tesla, popped up in September.
Tesla is the only U.S. car assembly plant owned by an American company that is not unionized, according to Electrek, a blog about the electric vehicle industry. The Fremont, California-based company considers itself a startup with an important mission that requires a bigger ask of its employees.
“There is no doubt that Tesla employees work harder than most,” a spokesperson told Electrek in May. “Changing the world is not a 9-5 job.”
“We have a long history of engaging directly with our employees on the issues that matter to them.”
The company listed unionization as a risk factor for the business in its most recent annual report.
The issue is a passionate one in the tech world, where workers argue over whether long hours and grueling work is justified for certain, especially “disruptive” companies. There is also the looming threat of automation at companies like Tesla, which most suspect would happily toss aside human workers in favor of machines. “The workers should feel free to form a union — this is a fundamental right,” one commenter wrote on Hacker News. “The risk is that management will increase the number of robots in an already highly automated factory, eventually replacing all the humans. Then the robots will form a union.”
In response to a request for comment, Tesla sent this statement:
“As California’s largest manufacturing employer and a company that has created thousands of quality jobs here in the Bay Area, this is not the first time we have been the target of a professional union organizing effort such as this. The safety and job satisfaction of our employees here at Tesla has always been extremely important to us. We have a long history of engaging directly with our employees on the issues that matter to them, and we will continue to do so because it’s the right thing to do.”
Clarification: This post has been updated to clarify that a statement Tesla made to Electrek was from earlier this year, and not in response to Thursday’s blog post by a worker.