​Members of the Tesla Workers United organizing committee are seen outside a Tesla factory in Buffalo, New York on February 14, 2023.

Members of the Tesla Workers United organizing committee are seen outside a Tesla factory in Buffalo, New York on February 14, 2023.

(Photo: Brian Murray/Twitter)

Tesla Workers Are Organizing a Union in Buffalo—With Help From Starbucks Veterans

"People are tired of being treated like robots," said a member of the union's organizing committee.

Tesla workers at a factory in Buffalo, New York told billionaire chief executive officer Elon Musk in an early Tuesday email that they are seeking to form the electric vehicle manufacturer's first-ever union.

Employees told Musk, who also owns Twitter and has previously expressed opposition to unions on the platform, that they are organizing for "better pay and job security alongside a reduction in production pressures that they say have been harmful to their health," Bloomberg News first reported.

"Tesla monitors keystrokes to track how long employees spend per task and how much of the day they spend actively working," according to the outlet, which cited a half-dozen workers. "This leads some to avoid taking bathroom breaks."

Al Celli, a member of the Tesla Workers United (TWU) organizing committee, told the outlet that "people are tired of being treated like robots."

"The narrative on unions has shifted thanks to Starbucks and other companies doing it first."

On Tuesday, organizers plan to disseminate Valentine-themed pamphlets at the plant that say, "Roses are red / violets are blue / forming a union starts with you," and include a link to the TWU website where employees can sign union cards.

As the website reads, "We are Tesla workers seeking a voice on the job by forming a union."

"Unionizing will further accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy because it will give us a voice in our workplace and in the goals we set for ourselves to accomplish," the message from the organizing committee continues. "Having greater sustainability in our own work lives and individual well-being will translate into greater ability to meet those goals."

It ends with a demand that management agrees to "fair election principles so all voices can be heard."

Unlike other major U.S. automakers that were unionized in the decades before the neoliberal counter-revolution weakened the labor movement, there is currently no union presence at Tesla's factories. Founded in 2003, the relatively new company has thwarted previous organizing efforts.

As More Perfect Union noted on Tuesday, "Workers have tried to unionize Tesla before, and the response has been extreme union-busting, some of it illegal." The outlet shared a video it produced last year featuring "a worker on the receiving end of this mistreatment."

Employees at Tesla's Buffalo plant are organizing with the Service Employees International Union affiliate Workers United, which has won hundreds of union elections at Starbucks cafes across the U.S. since December 2021. Its initial Starbucks victory was in Buffalo roughly six miles from the Tesla factory.

Jaz Brisack, a Workers United organizer and former Starbucks barista who was illegally terminated after leading the successful union campaign in Buffalo, is "helping spearhead the new organizing effort at Tesla," Bloomberg reported.

Not only did Starbucks workers in Buffalo catalyze an ongoing nationwide unionization wave at the company, but now veterans of that battle are trying to help workers at one of the city's largest nonunionized workplaces do the same.

"This is what a movement looks like," tweeted Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA. "Solidarity forever!"

Sharing a photo he took with TWU members on Tuesday morning, Richard Bensiger, former organizing director at the AFL-CIO and founder of the Organizing Institute, observed that "Buffalo really is a union town."

Brisack called Tesla "another example of workers showing that there is no such thing as an unorganizable workplace."

As Bloomberg reported, TWU is seeking to unionize "more than 800 Autopilot analysts in nonengineering roles that contribute to Tesla's automated-driving development, including by identifying objects in images its vehicles capture and helping its systems recognize them on the road," along with "roughly 1,000 manufacturing employees."

Celli, the TWU organizer, told the outlet that she and her fellow Autopilot workers, hired at roughly $19 per hour to start, "have such a rush to get things done that I don't know if it's actually being well thought out."

"I want a voice with my company."

Tesla fired hundreds of Autopilot workers in California last June, and Musk has advocated for automating such jobs despite mounting evidence that the technology poses a major safety hazard.

Tesla employee Keenan Lasch told Bloomberg that "the narrative on unions has shifted thanks to Starbucks and other companies doing it first," especially for Generation Z workers who constitute a large percentage of Autopilot analysts.

This isn't the first time that current and ex-Starbucks employees with unionization experience have lent support to fellow workers attempting to organize elsewhere. Last month, workers at a Peet's Coffee & Tea in Davis, California formed the chain's first unionized shop with help from Starbucks Workers United organizer Tyler Keeling.

"I want a voice with my company," Sara Costantino, a Tesla worker in Buffalo, said Tuesday. "We don't really have one."

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