BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Tesla Workers United said Thursday that over 30 workers were fired from a Buffalo plant Wednesday after workers attempted to organize earlier this week.
In a release, Workers United called the firings at Gigafactory 2 “unacceptable” and said expectations of Tesla employees at the factory are “unfair, unattainable, ambiguous and ever changing.”
“I returned to work (from COVID and a bereavement leave), was told I was exceeding expectations and then Wednesday came along,” organizing committee member Arian Berek said in a release. “I strongly feel this is in retaliation to the committee announcement and it’s shameful.”
According to the release, workers also received an email from the company around 7 p.m. on Wednesday, saying workers are prohibited from recording workplace meetings without all participants’ permission. Workers United said the policy violates federal labor law and New York’s one-party consent law to record conversations.
Tesla employee Sara Costantino, another organizing committee member, also commented as part of the statement.
“We’re angry. This won’t slow us down. This won’t stop us,” Constantino said. “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.”
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has taken a hard line against organized labor, despite an invitation to the United Auto Workers union to hold an organizing vote at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California. In 2021 Tesla was ordered by the National Labor Relations Board to make Musk delete a 2018 tweet in which it said that he unlawfully threatened employees with loss of stock options if they chose to be represented by the UAW.
“It’s unclear why workers were let go from Tesla’s Buffalo plant, but firing workers for organizing a union is illegal.
“If this is retribution for union organizing, then they’re coming out of the gates swinging, swinging hard but also swinging illegally,” said UB professor of sociology Erin Hatton. “There’s a lot happening fast it seems, so we don’t quite know all the details. It’s definitely a volatile moving situation.”
Hatton says the company’s anti-union stance and US labor laws could make unionizing challenging.
“It’s very hard given the current state of US labor law, which gives a lot of power to employers during this process,” she told News 4. “It means that workers face an incredible uphill battle and that uphill is even steeper when they face companies like Tesla.”
The growing trend of workers at other companies forming unions could help Tesla employees,” Hatton said referring to how Workers United helped Starbucks employees unionize, and most recently, is working with employees at Remedy House Café to unionize.
“We’ve seen again and again workers are pushing for better,” she said. “We see that here in Buffalo. We saw it with Starbucks, we’re seeing it with Tesla and a lot of different places. I do think given the momentum, around union efforts. there could be a different result this time.”
A spokesperson from Governor Hochul released a statement to News 4 saying:
“Governor Hochul supports workers’ rights to unionize and has supported unionization efforts and labor movements across the state. We expect all companies operating in New York to follow federal and state employment law, and our office is closely monitoring the situation.”
WIVB reached out to Tesla on Tuesday following the announcement of worker organization and did not receive a response. On Thursday, WIVB reached out again and received a bounce-back email, which said Tesla’s press email inbox is full and cannot currently accept messages.
Musk has not commented publicly on the organization’s efforts or the reported firings.
WIVB also reached out to the National Labor Relations Board for a statement on the claim, first reported on by Bloomberg, but did not immediately receive a response.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Sarah Minkewicz is an Emmy-nominated reporter and Buffalo native who has been a part of the News 4 team since 2019. Follow Sarah on Twitter @SarahMinkewicz and click here to see more of her work.