Feb 16, 2023 - Technology

Tesla workers allege company fired dozens in retaliation for union campaign

The Tesla, Inc. electric vehicle logo is displayed on a charging bay

Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Tesla fired dozens of workers at its Buffalo, New York, plant on Wednesday, the day after employees announced a union campaign, according to a new complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board by the Workers United labor union.

Driving the news: Workers United alleged in the complaint that Tesla terminated the workers "in retaliation for union activity and to discourage union activity."

  • The complaint asks the NLRB for an injunction to "prevent irreparable destruction of employee rights resulting from Tesla’s unlawful conduct."

The big picture: Tesla workers at the Buffalo plant announced their union campaign on Tuesday, seeking 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.

  • The Tesla workers are organizing with Workers United, which has helped unionize hundreds of Starbucks cafes across the country.
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been vocal about his opposition to unions in the past.

State of play: Tesla Workers United called the firings "unacceptable," in a statement Thursday and said the company's expectations for employees "are unfair, unattainable, ambiguous and ever changing."

  • Workers also received a company email Wednesday evening telling them of a new policy to ban them from "recording workplace meetings without all participants' permission," according to the statement.
  • The statement noted that the company policy violated federal labor law as well as New York’s one-party consent law to record conversations.

What they're saying: "I feel blind sided, I got COVID and was out of the office, then I had to take a bereavement leave. I returned to work, was told I was exceeding expectations and then Wednesday came along. I strongly feel this is in retaliation to the committee announcement and it’s shameful," said Arian Berek, one of the fired employees and organizing committee member, in the statement.

  • “We’re angry. This won’t slow us down. This won’t stop us. They want us to be scared, but I think they just started a stampede. We can do this. But I believe we will do this,” Sara Costantino, current Tesla employee and organizing committee member, said in the statement.

The other side: Tesla denied the allegations Thursday, claiming they are "false" and that employees were fired as the "result of a performance review cycle."

  • Tesla said it determined which employees would be let go on Feb. 3, "which was well before the union campaign was announced," according to a company statement.
  • "The employees let go as part of this process received prior feedback on their poor performance from their managers over the course of the review period. Despite feedback, they did not demonstrate sufficient improvement."

Editor's note: This story has been updated with a statement from Tesla.

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