Tesla’s unionising pushback violated federal labour law, court finds

Facebook
Twitter
LinkedIn
Reddit
Email
The labour violations occured at Tesla's factory in Fremont, California, which employs 12,000 people. Source: Flickr, Pestoverde

A federal administrative judge has ruled that Tesla violated US labour laws on 12 different occasions where it thwarted efforts by factory employees to form a union.

The judge condemned the electric car and solar firm’s moves to stop off-duty employees distributing union literature in the parking lot; prohibiting staff from wearing pro-union stickers, t-shirts and hats; and probing, disciplining and firing employees over union activity.

This article requires Premium SubscriptionBasic (FREE) Subscription

Unlock unlimited access for 12 whole months of distinctive global analysis

Photovoltaics International is now included.

  • Regular insight and analysis of the industry’s biggest developments
  • In-depth interviews with the industry’s leading figures
  • Unlimited digital access to the PV Tech Power journal catalogue
  • Unlimited digital access to the Photovoltaics International journal catalogue
  • Access to more than 1,000 technical papers
  • Discounts on Solar Media’s portfolio of events, in-person and virtual

Or continue reading this article for free

The judge also pointed at a tweet by CEO Elon Musk that implied that employees would lose their stock options if they voted in favour of a union.

The missive in question reads: “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare.”

Musk’s tweet, broadcast to more than 22 million followers on Twitter in May 2018, “can only be read by a reasonable employee to indicate that if the employees vote to unionize that they would give up stock options,” according to the judge’s decision, which adds: “Musk threatened to take away a benefit enjoyed by the employees consequently for voting to unionize.”

Pro-union workers wanted to join the United Auto Workers union, flagging long hours, nonergonomic machinery and a shortage of staff at the Fremont, California plant, which employs 12,000 workers.

As is typical in collective bargaining law, the Silicon Valley firm will not be subject to a financial penalty. Instead, it must rescind all the rules prohibiting pro-union activity, clear the record of the reprimanded staffer, rehire the fired employee and reimburse them for lost wages and post and circulate a notice informing employees of their right to promote and join a union. Musk will be required to be present when the same notice is read out loud to employees at a meeting “with the widest possible attendance.”

Embattled firm’s legal dispute with Walmart is ongoing

Tesla is battling litigation on more than one front, after Walmart took it to court in August, claiming that “systemic, widespread failures” were responsible for a series of rooftop blazes on stores between 2012 and 2018.

The lawsuit, which is currently ongoing at the New York County Supreme Court, alleges that seven fires on Walmart rooftops were caused by Tesla solar panel systems and installations. The retailer has asked the firm to remove the systems on all 244 stores where they are currently installed and pay for damages from the fires.

The two companies released a joint statement three days after the lawsuit was filed saying they “looked forward to addressing all issues and reenergising Tesla solar installations at Walmart stores, once all parties are certain that all concerns have been addressed.”

The litigation comes as Tesla sees a mixed outlook on its solar business. In August, the company launched a new US solar rental service in an attempt to reboot its sagging renewables segment.

The firm has witnessed muted solar roll-out levels in recent quarters, hitting record-low deployment figures in Q2 2019 even as energy storage reached new highs. The Silicon Valley player, which acquired SolarCity in 2016lost its spot as the US top residential installer to Sunrun in May.

US solar prospects amid PPA uptake and a changing policy landscape will take centre stage at Solar Media's Solar & Storage Finance USA, to be held in New York on 29-30 October 2019

8 October 2024
San Francisco Bay Area, USA
PV Tech has been running an annual PV CellTech Conference since 2016. PV CellTech USA, on 8-9 October 2024 is our second PV CellTech conference dedicated to the U.S. manufacturing sector. The event in 2023 was a sell out success and 2024 will once again gather the key stakeholders from PV manufacturing, equipment/materials, policy-making and strategy, capital equipment investment and all interested downstream channels and third-party entities. The goal is simple: to map out PV manufacturing in the U.S. out to 2030 and beyond.
22 October 2024
New York, USA
Returning for its 11th edition, Solar and Storage Finance USA Summit remains the annual event where decision-makers at the forefront of solar and storage projects across the United States and capital converge. Featuring the most active solar and storage transactors, join us for a packed two-days of deal-making, learning and networking.
17 June 2025
Napa, USA
PV Tech has been running PV ModuleTech Conferences since 2017. PV ModuleTech USA, on 17-18 June 2025, will be our fourth PV ModulelTech conference dedicated to the U.S. utility scale solar sector. The event will gather the key stakeholders from solar developers, solar asset owners and investors, PV manufacturing, policy-making and and all interested downstream channels and third-party entities. The goal is simple: to map out the PV module supply channels to the U.S. out to 2026 and beyond.

Read Next

June 21, 2024
Solar PV is expected to generate 20% of global power across midday peaks on the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere, up from 16% in 2023.
Premium
June 21, 2024
PV Tech Premium talks to Nextracker president Howard Wenger about the company's business, expansion plan and R&D spending. 
June 21, 2024
US community solar developer Summit Ridge Energy and PV manufacturer Qcells have extended their module supply partnership.
June 20, 2024
PV tracker manufacturer Nextracker has acquired US-based solar foundation company Ojjo to expand its utility-scale solar foundations business.
June 19, 2024
Global Solar Council offers policy recommendations to increase the installed solar capacity and address barriers slowing its deployment.
June 18, 2024
US solar tracker manufacturer Nextracker has unveiled a new manufacturing line in collaboration with industrial manufacturing services company Unimacts.

Subscribe to Newsletter

Upcoming Events

Solar Media Events
July 2, 2024
Athens, Greece
Solar Media Events
July 9, 2024
Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Singapore
Solar Media Events
September 24, 2024
Warsaw, Poland
Solar Media Events
September 24, 2024
Singapore, Asia