Cleveland, Ohio – The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ordered Tesla to rehire a worker it fired in 2017, ruling that the electric vehicle (EV) maker did so to quash union organizing activities.
The NLRB ruled that Tesla interrogated Richard Ortiz and other workers about their union-organizing activities, threatened the issuance of stock options to them if they continued organizing, fired Ortiz and warned another worker – all in an attempt to keep workers from organizing.
One issue was a 2018 tweet from Tesla CEO Elon Musk, denigrating union activity.
“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 tweeted.
The NLRB ruled that Musk must delete the tweet and post notice in his plants that he has done so, calling the tweet an illegal threat to removing agreed-upon benefits if workers chose to join the UAW. When the union organizes a plant, workers negotiate terms such as profit sharing and stock options, existing agreements don’t simply disappear.
Tesla must also rehire Ortiz within two weeks, pay him back wages for the past four years, award him any benefits he would have received (potentially including lucrative stock options), reinstate his seniority, and cover any tax penalties for the sudden back wages windfall.
Employees who were disciplined in connection to Tesla’s actions against organizing workers will have write-ups removed from their records.
Tesla must also post signs at its plants, informing workers of their rights to organize a union and listing what the company is not allowed to do in retaliation.
“This is a great victory for workers who have the courage to stand up and organize in a system that is currently stacked heavily in favor of employers like Tesla who have no qualms about violating the law,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, director of the UAW Organizing Department. “While we celebrate the justice in today’s ruling, it nevertheless highlights the substantial flaws in U.S. labor law. Here is a company that clearly broke the law, and yet it is three years down the road before these workers achieved a modicum of justice.”
In addition to the posters, back pay and deleted tweets, Tesla must remove a section of its confidentiality agreement preventing workers from talking to the media without gaining pre-clearance from the company. While the NLRB acknowledges that Tesla has a right to protect its trade secrets, it said the prohibition prevented workers from talking about labor relations within the plant.
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and Today's eMobility and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 19 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.