UAW: Tesla workers interested in joining union

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

The United Auto Workers on Friday confirmed that some Tesla Motors Inc. workers have “approached” the union about organizing at the company’s plant in Fremont, California.

The confirmation came in the form of a statement calling for the Palo Alto, California-based electric vehicle manufacturer to “apologize” to an employee named Jose Moran, who has contacted the UAW and wrote a post Thursday on publishing website Medium about unionizing.

“Mr. Moran is not and has not been paid by the UAW,” the union said. “We would hope that Tesla would apologize to their employee, Mr. Moran, for spreading fake news about him. We can confirm that Mr. Moran and others at Tesla, have approached the UAW and we welcome them with open arms.”

The statement followed tech blog Gizmodo on Thursday reporting Tesla CEO Elon Musk sent a direct message through Twitter to the Gawker Media-owned website accusing the UAW of paying Moran to “agitate for a union.”

Musk, Gizmodo reported, referred to the situation as an “attack.” He criticized the UAW, claiming the union was responsible for killing a joint venture between General Motors Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. that formerly occupied the plant. He said the UAW “abandoned” the plant’s workers following production at the plant ending in 2010.

Moran identifies himself in the online post as a production worker of four years at Tesla’s plant in Fremont. The Medium post includes support for the automaker and electric vehicles but raises concerns over “excessive mandatory overtime” putting “great risk” to well-being of employees.

“Preventable injuries happen often. In addition to long working hours, machinery is often not ergonomically compatible with our bodies,” he said. “There is too much twisting and turning and extra physical movement to do jobs that could be simplified if workers’ input were welcomed.”

Moran also raised complaints about Tesla production workers between $17 and $21 hourly. That’s in-line with UAW members with four years or less at assembly facilities for the Detroit automakers, however, Moran points out the cost of living in the Bay Area is among the highest in the nation.

Musk, according to Gizmodo, confirmed the company implements mandatory overtime but said it is “dropping almost every week.”

He also said workers’ total compensation is higher when factoring in seniority-based stock grants.

A Tesla spokesperson did not respond Friday for comment.

Tesla on Thursday released a statement to Bloomberg News saying the company has “a long history of engaging directly with our employees on the issues that matter to them, and we will continue to do so because it’s the right thing to do.”

Moran questions the company’s direct, “open-door policy” as not being a solution due to the size of the company. He calls for “better organization in the plant” that can be achieved “by coming together and forming a union.”

“Tesla isn’t a startup anymore,” he wrote. “It’s here to stay. Workers are ready to help make the company more successful and a better place to work. Just as CEO Elon Musk is a respected champion for green energy and innovation, I hope he can also become a champion for his employees.”

Musk, who regularly posts on Twitter about the company and responds to reports, as of Friday afternoon had not addressed Moran’s post or the media reports about some Tesla workers wanting to organize.

Tesla has continuously warned investors that its business could be adversely impacted if employees unionized due to the potential of higher employee costs and increased risk of work stoppages.

“The mere fact that our labor force could be unionized may harm our reputation in the eyes of some investors and thereby negatively affect our stock price. Consequently, the unionization of our labor force could negatively impact the company’s health,” the company said in its 2015 annual filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Tesla shares were unaffected by its spat with the Moran and the union. The stock on Friday closed up 3 cents to $269.23 a share.

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Twitter: @MikeWayland