The United Auto Workers (UAW) has tentatively probed Tesla’s Fremont factory to potentially join their union on a few occasions in the past few years, but it looked like they quickly let it go. This time appears to be different since the organization has kept the pressure on the company since a first publicized effort in February.
They sent out organizers who have now enlisted “community groups”, mainly labor groups, to call on Elon Musk and Tesla “to revise their strict confidentiality agreement to allow employees to discuss working conditions” – aka “talk about unionizing.”
Since the beginning of the effort to unionize, a few employees have gone public about concerns they have with salary and working conditions at the plant.
In February, CEO Elon Musk said that he would investigate the claims and a week later, he addressed the concerns in an email to all employees, which was leaked. It seemed to have stopped the UAW’s effort until now.
A recurring concern that came up in the previous complaints is that the confidentiality agreement that Tesla makes its employees sign is “preventing them from speaking up about working conditions”.
It seems to be the main issue brought up in this new letter to Musk that the UAW signed, along with other local labor groups:
Elon Musk, Chief Executive Officer Tesla, Inc. 3500 Deer Creek Road, Palo Alto, CA 94304
April 13, 2017 Dear Elon Musk and Tesla, Inc.:
We are united in our belief in a green and fair economy that saves the planet from the devastating impacts of carbon emissions while upholding justice for workers.
Recently, we have heard stories from Tesla production workers who are concerned about their need for living wages, fair and reasonable work schedules, and healthy and safe workplaces. In all of their stories is a fear about what will happen to their jobs, and their lives and families, if they speak out.
We are aware that Tesla recently asked workers to sign a wide-reaching confidentiality agreement. While we respect the need for Tesla to protect critical information about its products and technology, this agreement fails to acknowledge the protected rights of workers to communicate to each other and to the public about their working conditions, wages, or other critical worker justice issues.
We are concerned that this confidentiality agreement violates the letter and the spirit of labor laws which protects the rights of workers to openly discuss organizing and their working conditions. We are calling on Tesla to revise or clarify these rights, and communicate these rights to all workers.
We are also calling on Tesla to uphold these rights by committing to not retaliate against workers who do speak out, and to respect workers’ democratic voice in the workplace.
We urge Tesla management to support the right of workers to organize, and to engage with workers in good faith to advance the common interests of the company, the workers, their communities, and the planet.
That’s the second effort of the sort. In January, local California state assembly members reached out to Tesla to ask the same thing.
In his response, Tesla General Counsel Todd Maron clearly stated that the confidentiality agreement is to prevent leaks about Tesla’s products and business, and that it is not about preventing employees from discussing work conditions:
“Note that the Acknowledgement is clearly not intended to prohibit employees from discussing concerns about wages or working condition whether amongst themselves or with third parties.”
Considering that the company’s general counsel acknowledged it publicly and on paper, it would be hard to walk back if a problem would arise. Here’s the letter:
While the UAW and a few employees have been vocal about their concerns over working conditions at Tesla Fremont, it’s impossible to say if it’s actually a widespread sentiment among the more than 6,000 workers at the plant.
In the past, UAW President Dennis Williams said that they were “respecting Tesla’s startup status” up until now, but they are seeking to get involved apparently since Tesla is about to increase its production capacity with the Model 3, which could involve hiring 3,000 more workers at the plant.
In the previously mentioned email to all employees, Musk claimed that Tesla workers have higher compensations than Ford or GM when accounting for stock options. He is betting that Tesla workers will choose equity in the company over union dues.