Tesla is under fire again over labor practices after the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) tacked on additional charges to an existing complaint, including claims that Tesla fired an employee over efforts to unionize with the United Auto Workers at its Fremont plant. Tesla and the NLRB will go to trial in June.
The NLRB is an independent government agency that protects workers' rights to unionize.
The latest allegations have been added to a larger complaint that three workers filed against the automaker.
In August, the three workers claimed the company illegally intimidated them when they wore UAW T-shirts. One worker said he was restrained by a security guard when he participated in union activities like passing out flyers and pamphlets with UAW information.
In the newly amended complaint, one employee last fall sent screen shots of workers' photographs and job titles to another Tesla employee to post in a private employee Facebook page called "Fremont Tesla Employees for UAW Representation," where workers can legally post comments regarding wages and working conditions.
Afterward, a Tesla employee-relations investigator interrogated the two workers about their activity. One worker was fired on Oct. 18 and then, a day later, the other worker received a disciplinary warning.
The NLRB says Tesla's actions discourage employees from engaging in legal unionizing efforts and that the two employees were targeted for their UAW affiliation.
Around the same time the two workers were investigated, Tesla fired about 700 employees because of bad performance reviews, according to the automaker. But UAW alleges the firings were because workers were trying to unionize.
Labor rights experts aren't surprised by the latest amendment from the NLRB. Bill Sokol, a labor lawyer and lecturer at San Francisco State University, said, "It’s very possible that there will be more amendments, depending on the NLRB’s investigation of new charges, because we know that 700 workers were terminated."
Michael Sanchez, a Tesla factory worker and part of the complaint because he says he was intimidated for handing out union leaflets. He said he's happy with this amended complaint because it's a move in the right direction.
"It's a step forward, you know, to just speak the truth," Sanchez said. "We aren’t here to have a good job. We’re here to have a great career."
Tesla workers like Sanchez have been actively trying to unionize since the beginning of 2017. They have claimed unsafe working conditions as well as low pay.
In a statement to KQED regarding the latest complaint, a Tesla spokesperson denies the additional charges:
“We have over 37,000 individuals working towards a mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy, and we care about creating a great culture and future for our employees. These allegations from the UAW are nothing new. The only thing that’s changed since the UAW filed these charges is that many of the allegations have been outright dismissed or are not being pursued by the NLRB. There’s no merit to any of them. We will continue to fight for what is right.”
Tesla must respond to the newest allegations by April 13, 2018. A trial before an administrative judge is set for June 11, 2018.
The electric car company seems to be having a tough time right now. Tesla is under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board after a man died when he crashed his SUV Model X into a highway barrier on US-101 near Mountain View. Tesla admitted the car was in its semiautonomous “Autopilot” mode.
After this story was published, Tesla said that the company fired the employee listed in the amended NLRB complaint because he had lied about why he shared the photos during the internal investigation. The employee later admitted to lying, Tesla said, so the company terminated him.