Tesla broke labor law that protects union organizing, and CEO Elon Musk must delete an “unlawful” 2018 tweet that “coercively threatened” workers with loss of stock options if they unionized, an order this week from the National Labor Relations Board said.
The decision from the federal workplace regulator came down Thursday. As of noon Friday, Musk’s tweet — “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?” — remained live.
Tesla and Musk did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A three-member panel of the board found that Tesla in 2017 illegally interrogated three workers attempting to unionize over claimed safety concerns at the Palo Alto electric car company’s Fremont plant, illegally fired one of them, and in 2016 forced employees to sign a confidentiality agreement that violated the law by banning them from talking to the media about working conditions.
A study commissioned by Tesla workers and released in 2017 said data from California’s worker-safety agency showed recorded injuries at the Fremont plant were 31% higher than the average auto factory. Tesla acknowledged to this news organization at the time that long work hours and pressure to meet delivery goals created taxing conditions at the plant, but said it had made broad changes and improved safety.
This month, Alameda County released data showing that more than 400 coronavirus cases have been reported at the Fremont plant since it reopened in violation of county health orders last May. Tesla, which had shut down the plant in March 2020, issued a “Return to Work Playbook” that said the firm was “fully dedicated to the safety, health and well-being of the Tesla team.” The document outlined safety protocols Tesla said were based on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the World Health Organization and regional health authorities.
The National Labor Relations Board also ordered Tesla to post a notice at the Fremont plant in “conspicuous places” for 60 days reminding workers of their right to unionize and telling them that the company won’t make any rules barring them from talking to the press about workplace conditions or distributing union literature in their off hours in the company parking lot. The notice must also say Tesla won’t interrogate anyone about unionizing and won’t fire, discipline, or discriminate against union-supporting employees, or threaten any loss of benefits for workers voting to unionize.
The notice must also include a statement that Tesla will make Musk delete the tweet, the order said. The labor-relations board noted that Tesla had argued the tweet was protected under the U.S. Constitution’s free-speech 1st Amendment, but cited a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that a statement loses that protection if based on misrepresentation of the consequences of union bargaining.
A separate notice, also reminding workers of their right to unionize and saying Tesla won’t threaten employees with loss of benefits if they vote to join a union, must be posted at all company facilities nation-wide.