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Elon Musk challenges UAW to hold a union vote at Tesla’s California factory

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Mariella Moon

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Mariella Moon is an associate editor at Engadget.

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Elon Musk says Tesla will do nothing to stop United Auto Workers (UAW) from holding a union vote at the company’s Fremont, California, factory. In a tweet, the company chief said Tesla’s real challenge in the Bay Area is negative unemployment, so it treats and compensates its “(awesome) people well” or they’d just leave otherwise.

Musk posted the tweet in response to Kiss co-lead singer Gene Simmons, who sided with the executive when he called out the president for not mentioning Tesla in his State of the Union address. The president only praised Ford and General Motors for investing billions of dollars in their efforts to release electric vehicles, thereby generating thousands of jobs in the process. As Bloomberg notes, Biden is a labor union supporter and often snubs Tesla, which has a non-unionized workforce, in his speeches and interviews.

In a follow-up tweet, Musk claimed that Tesla factory workers have the highest compensation in the auto industry, posting an interview of GM CEO Mary Barra as his source. In the interview, news anchor and journalist Andrew Sorkin said Tesla’s non-unionized workers were earning more than their unionized counterparts. Barra said she’d have to see more information, since one must also take benefits and not just wages into account, but that what Sorkin said wasn’t the case last time she checked.

The UAW has been working to unionize Tesla for years, and Musk has criticized those efforts from the start. When a Fremont production worker claimed poor working conditions and low pay in 2017, Musk reportedly sent out a letter to employees with a point-by-point takedown while also slamming UAW. He said the union’s true allegiance is to the “giant car companies, where the money they take from employees in dues is vastly more than they could ever make from Tesla.”

In the same year, the National Labor Relations Board filed a complaint against the automaker after investigating complaints of unfair labor practices. According to the NLRB, workers said Tesla “coerces and intimidates” them with a confidentiality agreement that prevents them from discussing unionization. In 2018, the NLRB found that the company violated labor laws when it fired union activist Richard Ortiz and ordered it to compensate him for loss of earnings and benefits.

The labor board also ordered Musk to delete a tweet that might sound like a threat to employees. In the tweet, Musk similarly invited efforts to unionize. “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so [tomorrow] if they wanted,” he wrote. However, he also said: “But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?” NLRB chair Wilma Liebman explained at the time that to an employee, that may sound like they’ll no longer have stock options if they vote to unionize. Tesla offers its stock compensation program to most of its employees, as Electrek notes, and the company’s rising stock prices make it a very valuable benefit.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Engadget.

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