A group of Tesla workers in New York has sent company chief Elon Musk a letter stating their intention to unionize, according to Bloomberg. It could end up being the first Tesla union if successful, seeing as previous attempts fizzled out before organizers could petition for a vote. The employees involved in the campaign are in charge of labeling data for Tesla’s Autopilot technology at the company’s Buffalo, New York facility. Bloomberg says the group is asking for better pay, job security and a better work environment that eases the production pressures placed on them.
Workers told the news organization that they’ve been skipping bathroom breaks, since Tesla keeps a close eye on their every move. Apparently, the company monitors their keystrokes to see how long they spend on each particular task and how much time they spend working per day. They also said that the company shut down an internal chatroom where they can air their grievances, such as the how Tesla handles snow days. It was after that happened that the group started talking about unionizing. They’re now planning to distribute Valentine-themed materials at the facility with links to a website where employees can sign union cards.
The employees are working with Service Employees International Union affiliate Workers United, which unionized Starbucks cafes across the US. While Workers United has a good track record, the group still faces a tough road ahead, considering Elon Musk is known to be a staunch critic of unions. In 2017, he fired back against allegations of poor working conditions at Tesla’s Fremont factory and criticized the United Auto Workers (UAW) for inciting the company’s workers to unionize. He said UAW’s allegiance is in “giant car companies, where the money they take from employees in dues is vastly more than they could ever make from Tesla.”
Last year, he also challenged UAW to hold a union vote, claiming that Tesla’s (non-unionized) factory workers have the highest compensation in the auto industry. And let’s not forget one of his perhaps most infamous tweets regarding unionization. In 2018, he tweeted that there’s nothing stopping Tesla’s workers from unionizing, but then he added: “why pay union dues [and] give up stock options for nothing?” The NLRB asked Musk to delete his post, deeming it as a threat that employees would be giving up company-paid stock options if they join a union. The tweet in question is still live, and Tesla is still appealing the labor board’s ruling.