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Tesla CEO Elon Musk challenged the United Auto Workers to try and organize employees at his company’s plant in Fremont, California, and stepped up his attacks on the Biden administration’s policies.
In a series of tweets this week, Musk went after the union, a topic that he’s been more vocal about since President Joe Biden, a supporter of organized labor, took office.
“Our real challenge is Bay Area has negative unemployment, so if we do not treat and compensate our (awesome) people well, they have many other offers and will just leave!” Musk tweeted late Wednesday. “I’d like hereby to invite UAW to hold a union vote at their convenience. Tesla will do nothing to stop them.”
According to the California Employment Development Department’s website, Fremont had an unemployment rate of 3.1% in December 2021, the most recent available data.
Musk’s union criticism is nothing new. In 2018, he made comments that were found to have violated federal labor laws after Tesla had fired a union activist.
The National Labor Relations Board has ordered Tesla to rehire the employee, and to have Musk delete the tweet. But Tesla is appealing the administrative court’s decision.
Musk’s latest tweets continued a thread from Tuesday night, when Biden was presenting his State of the Union address. In the speech, Biden praised General Motors and Ford for their plans to invest in more electric vehicle production in the US
Musk responded by telling his 76 million-plus followers that “Tesla has created over 50,000 US jobs building electric vehicles & is investing more than double GM + Ford combined.”
GM said it expects annual capital expenditures of between $ 9 billion and $ 10 billion, largely supporting the transition to EVs, while Ford plans to spend $ 5 billion on its EV efforts this year. Tesla said it plans to spend $ 5 billion to $ 7 billion this year to support its projects globally.
Musk has been particularly perturbed with Biden of late. He attacked the administration’s Build Back Better proposal, which includes incentives for US consumers to buy electric vehicles, with larger ones if they buy union-made EVs. And he’s taken on Biden for his general reluctance to mention Tesla by name alongside other US car manufacturers, though he did so last month.
President Joe Biden delivers the State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on March 1, 2022 in Washington.
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One of Musk’s tweets this week included a YouTube video that he says “helps explain why former UAW members who work at Tesla are not huge fans of UAW.” The clip was published in 2010 by the World Socialist Web Site channel on YouTube.
In the video, workers at the NUMMI plant, which would later become Tesla’s first electric vehicle factory, are seen complaining that a union member was prevented from recording a UAW meeting in the local union hall.
Musk is not the UAW’s lone critic. The Detroit-based union is under federal oversight through a court-approved monitor as part of a settlement between the UAW and the government following a multiyear corruption probe that sent 15 people to prison, including two recent UAW presidents and three Fiat Chrysler executives.
The investigation uncovered years of bribery and kickback schemes involving several top union leaders.
Brian Rothenberg, a UAW spokesman, declined to comment on Musk’s tweets but noted that Tesla has appealed the NLRB ruling asking the company to “comply with basic organizing rights.”
The UAW operates an organizing office near the Fremont plant with a small amount of people.
Rothenberg would not discuss any union organizing efforts at Tesla or other EV companies, citing union policy not to comment on activities until petitions are filed.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
The burgeoning EV market presents a challenge to the UAW, which found in a 2018 study that Detroit automakers transitioning to electric could cost the union tens of thousands of jobs. Battery electric vehicles require far fewer parts than those made with internal combustion engines, and many of the parts are made outside the US
Even as unions have struggled to retain members, President Biden is urging Congress to pass legislation to protect workers’ rights. He’s proposed the Pro Act, which calls for punishing employers that engage in illegal union opposition, wage theft and worker misclassification.
“When a majority of workers want to form a union, they should not be stopped,” Biden said in Tuesday’s address.
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