Feb 14, 2023 - Technology

Tesla workers launch unionization campaign in New York

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The facade of Tesla Motors dealership with logo and sign in Pleasanton, California, in 2018. Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Tesla workers in New York announced in a letter to management Tuesday that they were launching a campaign to form a union.

Why it matters: It would be a first for Tesla, which until now has managed to avoid unionization at its U.S. facilities, unlike many other major automakers.

State of play: The workers hope to reach an agreement that results in better wages, job security, a say in workplace decision making, and a reduction in monitoring and production pressures, according to Bloomberg, which first reported the news.

  • Workers at the Buffalo plant told Bloomberg that Tesla tracks their computer keystrokes to monitor how they work, prompting some employees to refrain from taking bathroom breaks.
  • The Tesla workers are organizing with the Workers United labor union, which has helped unionize hundreds of Starbucks cafes across the country.

In a letter to management Tuesday, the workers wrote that unionizing would "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 letter urged the company to sign the Fair Election Principles, which would prevent Tesla from retaliating against workers for organizing a union, per Reuters.
  • On Tuesday, employees at the plant planned to distribute valentine-themed leaflets with links to a website where employees could sign union cards, per Bloomberg.

What they're saying: "People are tired of being treated like robots," Al Celli, a member of the union's organizing committee, told Bloomberg.

  • "I want a voice with my company — we don’t really have one," Sara Costantino, an employee at the Buffalo plant, told Bloomberg.

The big picture: Musk has been vocal about his opposition to unions in the past.

  • The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against Tesla in 2017 following allegations that it was intimidating employees who wanted to unionize.
  • Past unionization efforts by Tesla workers — in 2017 and 2018 — failed to come to fruition, per Bloomberg.
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