A union complaint filed with a federal agency alleges that Tesla fired pro-union workers at a solar products plant in Buffalo, NY.
Retaliation for “Outspoken Union Support”
On June 19, 2019, the United Steelworkers filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). According to a partially redacted document released by the NLRB, the complaint alleges that Tesla fired as many as six workers at its Buffalo solar products plant because they supported efforts to unionize the site.
The union also accused the company of having “intentionally interfered” with at least one person’s post-termination attempts to obtain another job as “retaliation” for “outspoken union support.”
The NLRB refused to release the names of the workers and other documents related to the case because they are part of an open investigation and could also “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
The United Steelworkers said it had been approached by the Buffalo plant workers about joining the union. This reportedly led the Steelworkers to partner with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers to unionize the South Park Avenue solar products plant, which was built and partially equipped with $750 million in state funding.
Tesla’s Checkered History with Unions and Workers
This is not the first time in recent years that Tesla has reportedly shown resistance and even outright hostility to unions and its own workers. In October 2017, the United Auto Workers filed an unfair labor practices complaint against Tesla with the NLRB after the company fired between 400 and 700 of its employees. The complaint alleged that the company discouraged union organization by intimidating employees, punishing those wearing union logos, and firing those who participated in protected activities. Tesla insisted the employees were punished for “performance issues.”
Tesla later blamed unions for a 2018 Reveal News story accusing the company of routinely concealing the number of injuries at its Fremont, CA facility, where the automaker produces its Model 3 economy vehicle. Reveal uncovered multiple injuries at the plant that were seemingly work-related that had been labeled as “personal medical cases,” meaning they were not counted when the company assembled its reports for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Reveal also alleged that Tesla failed to consistently report injuries involving temp workers, further skewing the results.
Additionally, Reveal reported that Tesla had a substandard worker safety record. In 2016, for example, Tesla’s rate of serious injuries that required time off or job restrictions was 83 percent higher than the industry average, while the company’s total injury rate was over 30 percent higher. According to Reveal, California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health has cited Tesla for more than forty safety violations since 2013. Tesla was also cited eight times for deficient training during that period.
In response, Tesla denounced the Reveal story in a post on the company’s blog, claiming that it was motivated by would-be union organizers. “In our view, what they portray as investigative journalism is in fact an ideologically motivated attack by an extremist organization working directly with union supporters to create a calculated disinformation campaign against Tesla,” the company wrote.
A later Reveal News story accused Tesla’s in-house medical clinic at the Fremont plant of routinely minimizing employee injuries in an effort to block workers’ compensation claims.