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Tesla, the American electric vehicle and clean energy company, is under fire for allegedly firing over thirty employees from its Buffalo, New York plant in retaliation for union activity. According to a press release from the Workers United union, the firings came just one day after workers made public their plans to form a union. The union claims that at least one of the workers who lost their job was part of the 25-employee organizing committee, while several others had taken part in labor discussions.
In a complaint filed with the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the Workers United union alleges that the firings were a form of collective retaliation against the workers who started the organizing effort and were intended to discourage others from unionizing. The union is seeking a federal court injunction to protect employee rights in its NLRB filing. Jaz Brisack, a Workers United organizer who helped with the union drive, described the firings as “designed to terrify everyone about potential consequences of them organizing.”
Retaliation against organizing unions is illegal under US federal law, and the NLRB can order that fired workers be reinstated with backpay if it finds evidence of such retaliation. However, Tesla has not responded to requests for comment on the issue or disclosed the reasons for the terminations.
The Buffalo facility, known as Gigafactory 2, employs over 800 analysts who label vision data to train Tesla’s Autopilot software. According to a report by Bloomberg, employees at the plant have complained of excessive monitoring and productivity targets so high that workers have felt pressured not to take bathroom breaks. The workers are also seeking better job security and pay. The union hopes to organize the 1,000 manufacturing employees based in Buffalo.
Bloomberg’s report noted that the firings occurred shortly after the company warned employees about technology usage in the workplace and called on them to “protect the confidentiality, integrity, and security of all Tesla Business Information.” The warning was issued a day after Bloomberg published a report containing quotes from various employees at the factory. It is not clear whether this warning was related to the firings.
This is not the first time that Tesla has been accused of anti-union behavior. In 2019, a California judge found the company guilty of several illegal anti-union practices, including letting security guards harass employees who were handing out union leaflets and interrogating union organizers. The judge also ruled that an anti-union tweet from Tesla CEO Elon Musk was illegal, and in 2021, the NLRB ordered Tesla to instruct Musk to delete the tweet. However, the tweet remains up, and Tesla workers have yet to form a union.