Tesla should accept that it violated labor laws if Elon Musk is serious about inviting the UAW to organize workers, union chief Ray Curry says


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Founder and CEO of Tesla Motors Elon Musk speaks during a media tour of the Tesla Gigafactory, which will produce batteries for the electric carmaker, in Sparks, Nevada.
James Glover II | Reuters

If Tesla CEO Elon Musk is serious about welcoming organizing efforts of the company’s U.S. workforce, the automaker should rehire a fired employee and stop attempting to overturn a ruling that it violated federal labor laws, said an automotive union leader.

United Auto Workers President Ray Curry said that such actions would be a “good faith effort” and “demonstrate a commitment to the workers of the facility” in Fremont, California.

In 2018, Musk tweeted a comment that was found to have violated federal labor laws after Tesla had already fired a union activist, Richard Ortiz. The National Labor Relations Board ultimately ordered Tesla to rehire the employee and to have Musk delete the tweet, which they saw as threatening workers’ compensation.

Tesla is appealing the administrative court’s decision, however.

Curry spoke on Tuesday during an Automotive Press Association webinar. His remarks followed more provocative tweets by Musk earlier in the day. The CEO, who has a following of 79.5 million on Twitter, wrote: “The UAW stole millions from workers, whereas Tesla has made many workers millionaires (via stock grants). Subtle, but important difference.”

The Detroit-based union is under federal oversight through a court-approved monitor as part of a settlement between the UAW and the government following a multiyear corruption probe that sent 15 people to prison, including two recent UAW presidents and three Fiat Chrysler executives.

The investigation uncovered years of bribery and kickback schemes involving millions of dollars and several top union leaders.

Earlier this month, Musk said on Twitter that he was “inviting” the UAW to try and organize employees at his company’s plant in Fremont. “Tesla will do nothing to stop them,” he wrote.

Curry said the union “definitely would welcome that opportunity, but clearly know that there’s some current appeals that are out there.”

United Auto Workers President Ray Curry speaks at the General Motors Factory ZERO electric vehicle assembly plant on November 17, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan.
Nic Antaya | Getty Images

“A key piece out of all of this is not the whim of a tweet or anything else, an exchange between the UAW and Tesla, it’s about the workers in those locations having a voice inside of their workplace. That’s the most important part of this whole process,” Curry said.

Musk’s open invitation to the UAW on March 3 followed Musk earlier in the day tweeting a YouTube video that he says “helps explain why former UAW members who work at Tesla are not huge fans of UAW.” The clip was published in 2010 by the World Socialist Web Site channel on YouTube.

In the video, workers at the NUMMI plant, which would later become the Fremont Tesla plant, are seen complaining that a union member was prevented from recording a UAW meeting in the local union hall.

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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