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By Irina Ivanova
Tesla workers at a plant in Buffalo, New York, announced a campaign to form what would be the electric car company’s first union, setting up a potential clash with CEO Elon Musk.
Workers in Tesla’s Autopilot division emailed a letter Tuesday to management announcing their intent to unionize and asking the company to stay neutral in the campaign.
The Autopilot union has roughly 800 workers, who analyze data to help the car’s self-driving software, and about 1,600 in the Buffalo plant overall, according to an organizer with the campaign.
“This is really only a fight to make a good job better,” Keenan Lasch, one of the campaign’s organizers, said in a statement announcing the union drive. “We are paid far less than the national average for our job title and have next to no sick time. We are only asking for a seat in the car that we helped build.”
Other organizers said workers in Tesla’s Buffalo facility face heavy monitoring and sometimes skip bathroom breaks because they feel pressured to keep their metrics up.
Will Hance, who started working at Tesla in October, said he was one of a group of new hires who were promised raises to $20.40 an hour after three months of work — raises that never materialized. Many workers were also disillusioned when Tesla delayed a decision to close its facility during the historic snowstorm that hit Buffalo in December, Hance said.
In an online company forum, “people were complaining about the policy, and people had begun to react to some of the posts with union emojis, and that’s where I first heard about it,” he said.
“It’s about the ability to just have a say in how we operate —how policies affect me, and my relationship to my work,” he said.
The Tesla workers are seeking to join Workers United, a new union that has organized hundreds of Starbucks stores in the past year, starting with a Starbucks in Buffalo — a few miles from the Tesla store. The workers are being helped in the effort by Jaz Brisack, one of the leaders of the Starbucks union who resigned last fall, saying the coffee chain forced her out in retaliation for her union activity.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The effort is likely to face an uphill battle at Tesla, where Musk has made clear his disdain for unions.
“A union is just another corporation” the billionaire CEO tweeted last year, claiming at the time that if workers at the California plant unionized they would lose stock options.
A union is just another corporation. Far better for many companies to compete for your skills, so that you have maximum optionality.
The National Relations Labor Board’s chief prosecutor in 2022 charged that Tesla illegally silenced workers in Florida by telling them not to discuss pay or another worker’s firing, which would be against federal labor law.
A previous effort to organize the Buffalo facility and a union drive in Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, both fizzled. Tesla was found by the labor board to have illegally coerced some Fremont workers, although the company is appealing that ruling.
First published on February 14, 2023 / 1:31 PM
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Tesla workers in Buffalo seek to form a union – CBS News
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