Steelworkers file labor charges against Tesla Buffalo

Local News

The United Steelworkers has filed federal labor charges against Tesla in Buffalo, alleging that the company has engaged in coercive activity against employees and illegally fired some workers who sought to unionize.

United Steelworkers filed the case with the National Labor Relations Board on Wednesday. This is the first labor case filed against the Buffalo factory since it opened in 2016. The charges got filed while both the United Steelworkers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical workers attempt to unionize at the plant.

Tesla says it employs 329 workers at the Buffalo plant, and Panasonic, its partner sharing the facility, employs another 401 workers. Tesla will have to employ 1,460 employees by April 2020 or face a state penalty of $41.2 million.

Tesla’s factories in Nevada and California have had 21 cases filed against them with the labor relations board since 2011, according to data on the labor board’s website.

News 4 Investigates first reported in December 2018 that some Buffalo Tesla workers wanted to unionize, but the effort has so far not been successful. Workers told News 4 Investigates in December that they want better pay, job security and to establish a grievance process at the Buffalo plant.

The average salary at the Buffalo Tesla plant is $16.20 an hour plus benefits and equity.

At that time, Tesla said “ultimately, it’s up to our employees to decide if they want to be unionized,” and that it “greatly values its employees.”

New York State officials did not require a labor neutrality agreement when they dolled out $750 million in taxpayer money to build and equip the facility by the Buffalo River. The lack of such an agreement means that Tesla does not have to keep a neutral position on unions.  

WIVB learned that at least one of those employees who led the unionizing effort was laid off in January, when Tesla announced a global reduction in its workforce.

“Tesla greatly values our employees at our Buffalo facility, and respects their right to organize,” a Tesla spokeswoman said by email.

“The ULP (unfair labor practice) allegation is without merit and we will be responding as part of the NLRB process.”

Representatives with the steelworkers did not immediately return phone calls.

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, has used his Twitter feed and emails to employees to rail against unions in the past, specifically against the UAW, which is trying to unionize at Tesla’s Fremont, California electric car manufacturing plant. 

The UAW has also accused Tesla, and Musk, of threatening workers over unionization efforts.

“That is why I was so distraught when I read the recent blog post promoting the UAW, which does not share our mission and whose true allegiance is to the giant car companies, where the money they take from employees in dues is vastly more than they could ever make from Tesla,” Musk wrote in one email, reported by Techcrunch in 2017.

On May 21, 2018, Musk Tweeted that Tesla employees are free to unionize, but warned, “why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?” That tweet resulted in the union filing labor law charges.

On May 22, 2018, Musk again tweeted that, “UAW destroyed once great US auto industry & everyone knows it.”

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