Organizers say Tesla fired dozens of workers for attempting to form union
Several dozen employees of a Tesla factory in Buffalo, N.Y., have been fired after they organized to form a union, according to a complaint filed with National Labor Relations Board as well as two people who are helping organize the group.
The complaint from Tesla Workers United, which is attempting to organize as a union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, accused Tesla of firing more than a dozen workers “in retaliation for union activity and to discourage union activity.”
The complaint listed 18 employees on the autopilot team at Tesla Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo who were fired Thursday, one day after several Tesla employees announced their union campaign.
Tesla Workers United said 39 workers from the factory in total were fired by Thursday.
“These firings are unacceptable,” the group said in a statement.
“The expectations required of us are unfair, unattainable, ambiguous and ever changing. For our CEO, Elon Musk, to fire 30 workers and announce his $2 billion charity donation on the same day is despicable,” it reads, referring to a reported charity donation by the company’s top manager.
By Friday, Jaz Brisack, a union organizer with Workers United assisting the Tesla organizing committee, put the total number of people fired by Tesla following the group’s organizing efforts this week between 40 and 50.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
Valentine’s Day cards before mass firings
The Tesla employees said that, along with members of the larger union affiliate, Workers United of New York, they had been canvassing last week, going door to door and calling people in order to drum up support.
The group held a formal meeting on Monday with people who’d shown interest during the canvassing and then held a demonstration outside the factory on Tuesday, which was Valentine’s Day.
“We were handing out Valentine’s Day cards as a little homage to the day and we were just trying to keep it lighthearted, because we really do like our jobs,” said one union organizer still employed by Tesla, who asked to speak anonymously .
They said the main purpose of the union was to increase job security for its members.
They said members of union organization effort were feeling “anger, frustration, betrayal” as a result of the firings, which started with 30 employees on Wednesday and an additional nine on Thursday.
“[Employees] were pulled aside for a meeting and taken to the front of the factory where our meeting spaces are typically and told right then and there that they were fired,” the union member said.
Not everyone terminated by Tesla was part of the union’s organizing committee, they said.
“We had a few people that were let go that were tangentially connected but that did not have a union card. In one situation, all the person had connecting them to the union was that at one meeting they had turned on their camera and stated their name,” the Tesla employee said.
Experts say retaliatory termination for organizing is illegal
“Over 30 workers were fired at a Buffalo facility just days after they announced efforts to form a union. It’s against the law to retaliate against workers trying to organize unions,” analysts at the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank, wrote online on Thursday, accusing the CEO of “union busting.”
Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.), whose district includes Buffalo, voiced support for the rights of workers to organize as a union.
“Western New York has a long history as a community where labor movements are built. There is no question that all workers deserve fair wages and quality working conditions, including in our growing green manufacturing sector. I support the right of workers to organize, and do so without fear of retaliation,” he said in an email to The Hill.
Labor activity and unionizing efforts across the country have been increasing in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen high inflation globally and rising costs of living.
The Cornell University labor action tracker counted nearly 60,000 workers on strike across the U.S. in December, with 42 individual strikes and 39 labor protests.
Even so, unionized workers are a shrinking part of the American workforce. Just 10.1 percent of U.S. workers were members of unions in 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from 10.3 percent in 2021.
While the number of unionized workers rose by 279,000 in 2022 from 2021, a 1.9 percent increase, the U.S. workforce on the whole grew by 3.9 percent.
The national union membership rate in 1983, the first year the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting such data, was 20. 1 percent.
Updated at 5:42 p.m.
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