In February, workers at a Tesla factory in Buffalo, NY, announced a campaign to form a union, saying they want better pay and benefits. Buffalo, if you recall, is the home of the first successful Starbucks union campaign that ultimately opened the flood gates for hundreds of other campaigns across the country unionizing the coffee giant.
The Tesla factory in Buffalo makes solar panels and components for charging equipment. About 800 workers at the factory also develop driver-assistance software for cars. The Autopilot department workers initiated the union drive and went public on February 13.
The Buffalo workers say that Tesla pays them less than the national average and they have inadequate sick time. In addition to seeking improved job security and increased pay, employees have said they want a say in workplace decision-making, and to curb monitoring, metrics, and production pressure that they claim are harmful to their health. Workers involved in the organizing campaign say Tesla monitors their keystrokes and tracks how long they spend per task and how much of the day they spend actively working. Some employees reported they have foregone bathroom breaks due to the pressure of being monitored.
Keenan Lasch, a member of the organizing team for the Tesla Workers United told the New York Times that the group are “only asking for a seat in the car that we helped build.”
The employees are working with Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Workers United on the campaign. Workers United is also part of the Starbucks campaigns.
Workers at Tesla factories have previously attempted to unionize. In 2021, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Tesla had illegally fired a worker involved in organizing at the car makers’ Fremont, CA, factory. The Board found that Elon Musk had threatened workers with the loss of stock options if they unionized.
## Near Immediate Layoffs Spur Charges of Retaliation by Union
Just one day after employees announced they were launching an organizing campaign at the Tesla Buffalo plant’s Autopilot department dozens of employees were reportedly laid off.
The Workers United Union filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board on February 15, accusing the automaker of terminating some of the employees “in retaliation for union activity.”
The union says the company fired more than 30 employees, noting that the workers also received an email with an updated company policy prohibiting them from recording workplace meetings without all participants’ permission.
“This is a form of collective retaliation against the group of workers that started this organizing effort,” Jaz Brisack, a Workers United organizer who is helping spearhead the Tesla union drive, told Bloomberg News. The terminations are “designed to terrify everyone about potential consequences of them organizing, as well as to attempt to cull the herd,” she said.
The union asked the labor board to seek a federal court injunction “to prevent irreparable destruction of employee rights resulting from Tesla’s unlawful conduct.” ■