Elon Musk

Elon Musk looks up as he addresses guests at an event in Stavanger, Norway on August 29, 2022.

(Photo: Carina Johansen/NTB/AFP via Getty Images)

UAW Pledges All Necessary Resources to Help Unionize Key Tesla Factory

"Not even Musk can hide from the labor movement forever."

The United Auto Workers has reportedly offered to provide organizers with all the resources they need to unionize Tesla's electric car factory in Fremont, California, an effort that would pit an invigorated UAW against a company run by Elon Musk—the world's richest man and an aggressive union-buster.

Following news Monday that the UAW reached a tentative contract agreement with General Motors—the final Big Three holdout—after six weeks on strike, Bloomberg reported that "Tesla's roughly 20,000-worker plant in Fremont, California currently has a UAW organizing committee whose members are talking to coworkers about the advantages of collective bargaining."

"The UAW has committed to providing whatever resources are necessary for the campaign," Bloomberg added, citing an unnamed person familiar with the nascent organizing push.

Tesla dominates the U.S. electric vehicle market and has been a target of union organizers for years.

In 2017, Tesla fired an employee who was helping lead a unionization effort at the Fremont factory, which was unionized before Tesla purchased it over a decade ago. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that the 2017 firing amounted to unlawful retaliation for protected union activity, a finding that was later upheld in federal court.

Earlier this year, Tesla terminated dozens of workers at its Buffalo, New York factory a day after a group of employees sent Musk a letter informing him of their intention to unionize. The fired workers have filed a complaint with the NLRB.

Bloomberg noted Monday that Musk has personally spoken out against unionization efforts, calling the 2017 push "morally outrageous" after a Tesla employee and organizer published an article decrying the company's low wages and dangerous working conditions.

In 2018, Musk tweeted that there is "nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union."

"But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?" he asked. The NLRB found that the tweet, which is still up, violated U.S. labor law, a decision that Tesla has appealed.

UAW president Shawn Fain, who was elected by the rank-and-file earlier this year after an insurgent campaign, signaled in a speech over the weekend that the union is eyeing fresh unionization drives at Tesla, Toyota, and other non-union car manufacturers after securing historic tentative contract agreements with the General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis.

"One of our biggest goals coming out of this historic contract victory is to organize like we've never organized before," Fain said. "When we return to the bargaining table in 2028, it won't just be with the Big Three. It will be the Big Five or Big Six."

Fain has previously called out Musk by name for treating workers poorly while enriching himself. In a CBS News interview in September, the UAW president said that autoworkers at non-union car companies "are scraping to get by so that greedy CEOs and greedy people like Elon Musk can build more rocket ships and shoot theirself in outer space."

"And that's unacceptable," Fain added.

The New York Timesreported Monday that the UAW is also planning to target foreign automakers with non-union factories in the U.S. Southeast.

"Some of the biggest new plants are under construction in Georgia, a critical swing state for 2024, including a Hyundai electric vehicle plant that will be the state's biggest economic development project ever," the Times noted.

In an op-ed for The Guardian last month, labor writer Hamilton Nolan argued that "Tesla is now one of the most important union targets in America, given its structural role in undermining everything that the UAW is fighting for."

"We can have a profitable American auto industry that provides good quality union jobs to hundreds of thousands of workers and helps resurrect the beleaguered middle class; or, we can have a profitable American auto industry that provides billions of dollars to people like Musk and pushes wages as low as the most desperate worker in rural South Carolina will accept," Nolan wrote.

"Not even Musk can hide from the labor movement forever," Nolan added. "It's been around a lot longer than he has."

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