A union that has pestered Tesla for years over the company’s working conditions may not be any better at securing a healthy work environment for its members.
The United Automobile Workers International Union (UAW) has lobbied Tesla’s workforce to demand union representation since 2010, when the company took control of a formerly unionized Toyota factory in Fremont, Calif. The union’s guarantee to fight for a better work environment falls flat, however, given a class action lawsuit and ongoing FBI investigation that involves union leadership.
At a Ford plant in Chicago, the union’s plant manager was named in a 2014 federal lawsuit into claims of widespread sexual harassment. The class action suit has grown from four to 33 women and goes back more than two decades.
The women claimed they filed multiple complaints with company and union representatives, but repeatedly saw nothing done, and even experienced retribution sometimes taken against the complainants. After the lawsuit was launched, Ford suspended the branch manager. The UAW appealed the suspension. The union chief returned to his job after serving his suspension.
An investigation by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found “reasonable cause to believe” the women’s allegations, and Ford entered into a $10 million settlement with the plaintiffs in August, though the company admitted no guilt.
Shortly after the lawsuit was settled, an FBI probe into UAW widened to include General Motors and Ford. The three organizations are being investigated for corruption between company and union leadership. Union leadership is alleged to have exchanged labor peace for company money, the Detroit Free Press reports.
The UAW has gained a foothold in some Tesla factories whose staff work long hours and weekends to meet strict production quotas. UAW has promised employees a healthier work environment and a better work-life balance in exchange for dues. A sexual harassment case at a UAW-unionized plant in Chicago may call the union’s promises into question, however.
The Fremont factory had been staffed with a union workforce until Tesla took it over and kicked out the union’s influence. That fact has motivated the union’s push to unionize Tesla workers.
Working long hours, sometimes 12 at a time, and weekends may give some Telsa employees ample reason to want the union. Even so, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has kept the UAW at bay for a number of years, always countering union claims about employees’ poor welfare and unhappiness as overblown. In one case, Musk claimed a Tesla employee who wrote a blog post criticizing the company’s labor practices was paid by the UAW, which the union denied.
In addition to challenging work schedules, which Tesla freely admits, the company has also been sued multiple times in the past year for discrimination. Some workers went as far as to compare working conditions in a Tesla factory to like living in “the Jim Crow era,” CNN reports.
While saying the company takes the charges seriously, Tesla points out that “in the history of Tesla, there has never been a single proven case of discrimination against the company. Not one.”
Tesla commissioned Employment Matters Counseling and Consulting (EMCC) to conduct an investigation into one of the lawsuit’s claims, specifically regarding gender discrimination, harassment and retaliation by the company. The investigation found all the claims unsubstantiated, according to an EMCC report received by The Daily Caller News Foundation.
These and other similar events have given the UAW ammunition in their unionization push and have drawn in allies in their fight. Democrats, who normally praise Tesla’s electric tech and progressive commitment to fighting climate change, find fault with the company’s anti-union actions.
After pressure from the UAW, Democrat lawmakers in California waded into the Tesla-UAW dispute last year. The state legislature passed a bill that requires car manufactures to be certified by the state labor secretary for fair labor practices before they can collect tax rebates on zero-emission vehicles, a significant driver of electric car sales.
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