The United Autoworkers (UAW) on October 26 filed a second round of unfair labor practices charges against Tesla, the US’ largest manufacturers of electric cars.
Among the six charges that the union filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), one charges the company with firing some of its factory workers for trying to organize a union
Tesla says that the firings, which affected employees throughout the company, not just production workers, was for performance-based reasons.
But Mike Williams, a union supporter at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, said his own performance report showed no problems at work.
“I worked hard for this company for five years, sometimes 72 hours a week and never had any performance-related complaints,” said Williams. “I did, however, wear a union shirt. And I had union stickers on my water bottle. And I believed that a union would make us safer, and would make the company more organized and more efficient. I hate to think that I was targeted because of it. And it’s not just me. Hundreds of other people were let go with no warning. I want Tesla to know that we are more than just numbers. I have kids, I have a family, and this job meant everything to us.”
Before UAW filed its latest charges against Tesla, some of the fired workers and their supporters rallied in front of the Fremont Tesla plant to demand reinstatement of the fired workers.
They also delivered a letter from their community supporters urging Tesla to rehire the fired workers. The letter said that the company’s publicly stated reasons sounded phony.
“We find the mass firings surprising given that Tesla is in ‘production hell’ and has fallen behind its stated goals for producing its Model 3,” states the letter.
When Tesla opened its Fremont plant, its CEO Elon Musk called it a “factory of the future.”
But an article appearing in the Guardian last May make it sound more like a factory from a dark and dreary past.
According to the Guardian, “ambulances have been called more than 100 times since 2014 for workers experiencing fainting spells, dizziness, seizures, abnormal breathing, and chest pains, according to incident reports obtained by the Guardian. Hundreds more were called for injuries and other medical issues.”
“I’ve seen people pass out, hit the floor like a pancake, and smash their face open,” said Jonathan Galescu, a Tesla production technician to the Guardian. “They just send us to work around him while he’s still lying on the floor.”
Conditions like these, lower than industry standard pay, and excessive overtime caused some Tesla workers to start talking about forming a union.
In January, the union organizing drive went public. Union supporters wore union buttons, t-shirts, and stickers and began talking to the press about conditions inside the plant.
Workers said that when their organizing campaign went public, Tesla began to harass and coerce union supporters.
In April, UAW filed unfair labor practices charges against Tesla. Among other things, the UAW charged Tesla with requiring workers to sign a restrictive confidentiality agreement that prevents them from discussing working conditions with others.
In August, the National Labor Relations Board agreed that Tesla had broken the law and filed a complaint against the company.
A hearing on that complaint is scheduled for November 14.
Then on October 13, Tesla announced a mass firing of employees that included engineers, managers, and factory workers.
Reports on the firings estimated that between 400 and 700 employees were terminated.
But pro-union supporters said that they thought that as many as 1000 were fired.
Just about two weeks after the firings, some of the fired pro-union workers and their supporters demonstrated in front of the Tesla factory.
The protesters then marched into a Tesla’s Fremont showroom and held a rally.
Richard Valle, Alameda County Commissioner, was one of a number of local elected officials who joined Tesla workers at the rally.
Valle said that Elon Musk may be worth billions but his wealth and that of other billionaires depends on work done by workers.
Valle said that he and other elected officials would stand with the fired workers until they got their jobs back and the company recognized their union.
After the UAW filed its second round of unfair labor practices charges against Tesla in October, Richard Ortriz, a union activist fired for talking to others about working conditions at the Tesla factory, explained why the fight for a union at Tesla is so important.
“I was fired for trying to better the lives of my co-workers,” said Ortiz. “I always felt this was a worthy fight. I knew it wouldn’t make me popular with management, and I knew there was risk, but people are getting hurt. People are being paid less than they’re worth. And people are being treated unfairly.”
About his firing, Ortiz said, “I’ve worked in auto manufacturing my whole life. I do not believe–not for a second–that I was fired for cause.”