Are Tesla Workers Getting Ready to Unionize?

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Early last year, the United Auto Workers (UAW) labor union began talking with employees at Tesla Inc.’s (NASDAQ: TSLA) Fremont, California, plant to determine if there was interest in having the UAW represent the more than 5,000 workers Tesla employs there. A Thursday post at Medium by Tesla employee Jose Moran could push the unionization effort ahead more quickly.

The UAW apparently has not assigned an organizing team to the plant, according to Automotive News, which called the international union and was referred to year-old remarks from UAW president Dennis Williams.

In remarks made in May of last year, Williams said the union was “very interested in Tesla,” but that the union is not approaching the company in an “adversarial way.” The union has delayed organizing Tesla’s workers because the company was a startup, according to Williams.

In his post at Medium, Moran wrote:

Most of my 5,000-plus coworkers work well over 40 hours a week, including excessive mandatory overtime. The hard, manual labor we put in to make Tesla successful is done at great risk to our bodies. … A few months ago, six out of eight people in my work team were out on medical leave at the same time due to various work-related injuries.

Most Tesla production workers earn between $17 and $21 hourly. The average auto worker in the nation earns $25.58 an hour, and lives in a much less expensive region. The living wage in Alameda county, where we work, is more than $28 an hour for an adult and one child (I have two). Many of my coworkers are commuting one or two hours before and after those long shifts because they can’t afford to live closer to the plant.

Tesla has plans to ramp production to 500,000 vehicles by the end of 2018. In order for that to happen, the company will surely need to increase its labor force. Currently Tesla is the only U.S.-based carmaker that is not unionized. The company also employs 3,000 people at its Nevada Gigafactory and recently said it would add another 550 jobs there.

According to Moran, interest among Tesla’s workers for union representation is rising:

Many of us have been talking about unionizing, and have reached out to the United Auto Workers for support. The company has begun to respond. In November, they offered a raise to employees’ base pay — the first we’ve seen in a very long time.

But at the same time, management actions are feeding workers’ fears about speaking out. Recently, every worker was required to sign a confidentiality policy that threatens consequences if we exercise our right to speak out about wages and working conditions. Thankfully, five members of the California State Assembly have written a letter to Tesla questioning the policy and calling for a retraction.

Tesla’s stock traded up slightly to $270.12 by mid-morning Friday. The 52-week range is $143.70 to $271.18, and the high was posted yesterday. The consensus 12-month price target is $240.94.