The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that Tesla violated US labor laws by firing a union activist and threatening worker benefits via a tweet from CEO Elon Musk. As a result, the company must reinstate the fired worker and force Musk to eliminate the tweet in question, Bloomberg has reported.
Musk’s tweet, from May 2018, immediately drew attention as a possible violation of labor laws. In it, he said that “nothing is stopping the Tesla team at our auto plant from voting for the union. Tmrw could do it if they wanted to. But why pay union dues and give up stock options for nothing?” Tesla argued that the tweet noted that union members of other automakers do not receive stock options. However, former NLRB president Wilma Liebman argued that Tesla workers are likely to see it differently. “The employee is going to hear you like, ‘If I vote to unionize, stock options will no longer be an option,'” he said. Bloomberg at the time.
Nothing stopped the Tesla team at our car plant from voting for the union. I could do it tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues and give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2 times better than when the plant was UAW and everyone already receives medical care.
– Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 21, 2018
In its ruling, the NLRB said the fired employee, Richard Ortiz, should be rehired with all citations of disciplinary action removed from his personal files. The company must also “repair it for any loss of income and other benefits.”
In addition, he ordered Tesla to have Musk delete the tweet in question and publish a lengthy notice to employees about the ruling, stating their rights to “form, join or help a union.” The notice must also say that workers will not be fired or penalized for such activities and that the company will rehire Ortiz with retroactive pay. While an administrative law judge recommended that Musk read the notice aloud to workers at a meeting, the NLRB said the written notice would suffice.
Tesla has yet to comment, but the NLRB’s rulings can be appealed in federal court. However, the board cannot impose punitive damages or hold executives liable for breaking the law, Bloomberg indicated. As of today (March 26 at 7:01 am ET), Musk’s tweet is still live.
The ruling also drew the attention of union leaders and advocates, who said it came too late. “There is a company here that clearly violated the law, and yet these workers are three years away from achieving a modicum of justice,” said United Autoworkers Vice President Cindy Estrada. Bloomberg.