What is a union?
Before we take a deep dive into Tesla’s controversial past with unions, you may be wondering, well what is a union? The textbook definition defines a union as “the act or instance of uniting two or more things into one.” A better understanding of a labor union or trade union is an organized group of workers who unite to make decisions about conditions affecting their work. Labor unions strive to bring economic justice to the work place and social justice to our nation. There are more than 60 unions representing 14 million workers throughout our country, wow! Unions represent so many organizations out there, such as teachers, postal workers, farmers, nurses, and athletes. I could go on and on. Check out this complete list at Our Affiliated Unions.
How do they work?
A union is like a democracy, where officers hold elections and make decisions on behalf of all members. There are a few steps to take when forming a union:
- Form a group represented by a union to deal with employers.
- Employers may try to persuade employees not to form a union which is legal. However, it is illegal for employers to prevent employees from unionizing through threats or violence.
- Employers are not required to required to agree with all terms, but
- they are required to bargain with good faith.
- Once an agreement is reached, a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) is signed.
- After the CBA is signed employers cant change details without the unions approval, and is lasts for an agreed upon time period.
- Union costs are paid by member monthly, and most unions have paid staff by either the union or some are volunteers.
Why Businesses may not want a union
There are many reasons why businesses may be opposed to having their employees unionize. Unions have the right to argue for better pay, working conditions, and advocate for their members. For example, if union workers are not being paid what they believe to be a fair wage, they may go on strike and refuse to work, which will severely hurt the efficiency and economy of any business, so they may be forced to increase workers wages. On average, union workers get paid 10-20% more than non union workers. Another example may be a union advocating for an employee the company wants to fire because they are constantly late and do poor work. The union is going to fight for that worker regardless of their poor employment status.
Tesla’s Controversy with Unions
Facing the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic and recent concerns about economic recession, big companies are starting to face controversy over their lack of support for unions in their businesses. Tesla is one of the most controversial companies that are trying to stop their workers from unionizing, and people are not happy about it. The United Auto Workers Union has been fighting with Tesla for years to get union rights to their workers. Tesla has been found to be in violation of labor law in unfairly cracking down on union organization.
Ironically enough, we all know Elon Musk has recently attempted to buy Twitter, but his notorious tweet in 2018 claiming to be inviting unions only backfired on him, as he stated in the tweet that voting for a union would result in employees needing to give up stock option and pay union fees for “nothing.” This tweet was found to violate the NLRA, a US labor law. The decision claimed he illegally threatened workers and the National Labor Relations Board ordered Musk to delete it.
Not only was Tesla owner Elon Musk found in violation for his tweet, in 2019 it was found by the National Labor Relations Board that Tesla illegally fired a worker involved in union organizing. The board ruled that worker Richard Ortiz be reinstated back with pay. Ortiz had been visibly involved in union organizing, including distributing leaflets in the parking lot of the company’s plant in Fremont, California before he was fired in October 2017. The company said it fired him because he had posted screenshots of employees’ profiles in an internal platform to Facebook. An administrative law judge ruled that it was in retaliation for his organizing efforts.
More recently, Tesla was put back in the spotlight when California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing for alleged systemic mistreatment of factory employees and last year was ordered to pay a $137 million judgement to an ex-worker due to a pattern of racial abuse he experienced when working with Tesla. In each of these cases, management was sought to be unresponsive and defensive to concerns by the individual employees in question. With a union representative, the employees concerns might have been offered a second chance to be heard.
National Labor Relations Act (NLRA)
The NLRA is “the policy of the United States to encourage collective bargaining by protecting workers’ full freedom of association. The NLRA protects workplace democracy by providing employees at private-sector workplaces the fundamental right to seek better working conditions and designation of representation without fear of retaliation.” As discussed above, the NLRA has protected workers against companies like Tesla that refuse to unionize and includes what social media actions the company takes in this regard.
The Tesla controversy is a great example of how the NLRA has done in job in protecting workers, as long as workers continue to file grievances and bring claims again companies for unfair practices, including unfair social media campaigns.