Tesla’s Musk has harsh take on unions as the UAW takes bold new step

Several weeks after the United Auto Workers won historic new contracts for employees at the Big Three — Ford  (F) – Get Free Report, General Motors  (GM) – Get Free Report and Stellantis  (STLA) – Get Free Report — the union launched an organizing drive across the nonunionized auto industry. 

The union said in a statement that thousands of autoworkers at more than a dozen nonunion automakers had announced organizing campaigns to join the UAW. 

The organizing drive, the union said, will cover close to 150,000 workers across 13 automakers: Tesla, Toyota, Mercedes, Rivian, Lucid, Hyundai, Honda, BMW, Nissan, Subaru, Volkswagen, Mazda and Volvo. 

Related: Elon Musk lays out the enormous promise of Neuralink

Over the past few weeks, several of these automakers — including Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai — have offered pay raises designed to mirror those featured in the UAW’s new contracts with the Big Three. 

But according to the union, these measures are not enough to dissuade workers from wanting to unionize. 

“We’ve lost so much since I started here, and the raise won’t make up for that,” Jeff Allen, a worker at a Toyota assembly plant, said in the statement, adding that morale at the factory has hit an all-time low. 

The pay raise “won’t make up for the health benefits we’ve lost, it won’t make up for the wear and tear on our bodies. They can give you a raise today and jack up your health benefits tomorrow. A union contract is the only way to win what’s fair.”

It’s time.

From Toyota to Tesla, from California to South Carolina, America’s autoworkers are ready to Stand Up and win their fair share of the auto industry’s record profits.

Join us.https://t.co/AcFJW3wqhW pic.twitter.com/5HMOB0YN3j

— UAW (@UAW) November 29, 2023

UAW: ‘New era of working-class leverage’

The union called the current organizing drive an “unprecedented effort” that marks a “new era of working-class leverage.” 

Union President Shawn Fain highlighted the earnings of the electric-vehicle automakers, the Japanese and Korean Six and the German Three in a video urging workers to organize. 

“The money is there,” Fain said. “The time is right. And the answer is simple. You don’t have to live paycheck to paycheck. You don’t have to worry about how you’re going to pay your rent or feed your family while the company makes billions. A better life is out there.”

And while some of the automakers in question have made moves to defend against the threat of the union, Tesla — which has long been a staunch opponent of unionization — has made no such efforts.

Related: Elon Musk’s Tesla has a new union problem on the heels of historic union win

Musk’s problem with unions

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, speaking at the New York Times’ DealBook Summit on Nov. 29, said that if Tesla became unionized, it would be because “we failed.” 

“I think it’s generally not good to have an adversarial relationship between one group at the company and another group,” Musk said. “I disagree with unions because I don’t like anything which creates a lords and peasants sort of thing. I think unions naturally try to create negativity at a company.”

Musk said that Tesla line workers could advance into senior management, adding that he is no stranger to the people on the line who are responsible for assembling his vehicles. 

After striking for roughly 40 days, the UAW won contracts that featured cost of living adjustments, better benefits and pay raises of at least 25% for its members. 

Image source: Jim Vondruska/Getty Images

“Everyone,” Musk said, “eats at the same table.” 

“We try hard to ensure the prosperity of everyone,” Musk said. “We’ve made many people working the line, who didn’t even know what stocks were, millionaires.”

A federal appeals court found in March that Tesla had illegally fired an employee involved in unionization efforts in 2017. The same court found a tweet by Musk that threatened employees’ stock options to be illegal, and asked him to delete it. 

He has not complied. 

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.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 21, 2018

According to Tesla Workers United, a group of employees at one of Tesla’s New York factories was fired shortly after attempting to organize the plant in February. Tesla claimed that the firing, which it was said resulted from regular performance reviews, was not a retaliatory effort. 

Tesla shares at last check Thursday were trading off 0.8% above $242. The company will begin deliveries of its highly anticipated Cybertruck with a launch event Thursday afternoon

Contact Ian with tips via email, ian.krietzberg@thearenagroup.net, or Signal 732-804-1223.

Related: Another major legacy automaker agrees to terms in light of UAW union threat

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