Tesla CEO Elon Musk and the company’s head of human resources, Gaby Toledano, discussed derailing United Auto Workers unionisation efforts by promoting union activists to jobs in the safety department, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.
According to Bloomberg, the two executives discussed whether reassigning the employees to management roles on the “Safety team” would make them unable to engage in collective bargaining drives—something that may be of interest to National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) officials investigating alleged labour violations at Tesla’s Fremont, California electric car production facility. The news agency wrote:
“I saw it as positive they get involved in something they were criticising,” Gaby Toledano, who joined Tesla as “chief people officer” in May 2017, testified Tuesday in a National Labour Relations Board hearing in Oakland when she was presented with the emails. Toledano recently resigned from the company while on a leave of absence.
… Toledano acknowledged having suggested, in emails with Musk, having employee Jose Moran and another union supporter become full-time safety staff rather than “work to pull in the UAW.” Toledano wrote, “I am confirming now with Legal that if they join the Safety team then they would then be considered part of management and not eligible to advocate for a union should they accept those roles.”
In response to an email from Toledano saying the promotions would be an “Amazing way to turn adversaries into those responsible for the problem,” Musk wrote “Exactly,” Bloomberg added. In another email from Musk to a former Tesla health and safety chief, Seth Woody, the CEO said he wanted the union supporters “to join your team full time, so long as they do so in good faith and are truly as committed as they claim to safety.”
The labour agency’s complaint against Musk alleges that the company illegally retaliated against union advocates at Tesla’s plant, which has been noted to have an abnormally high injury rate for the industry and was named by the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health as one of the most dangerous U.S. workplaces. Purported tactics included maintaining overly broad confidentiality practices, restricting union organising activity, retaliation against supporters, and preventing safety discussions among workers. Tesla denies the allegations and has characterised them as typical union rhetoric.
The NLRB forbids forms of retaliation against workers designed to discourage or encourage unionization “by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment,” and promising or granting benefits to employees to encourage them to abandon unionization efforts is specifically advised against by HR professionals. However, Toledano told the NLRB during hearings on Tuesday she was not aware if that the idea was ever acted upon. She also told Business Insider that the idea was Musk’s, not hers.
Bloomberg separately reported earlier this week that one of the union advocates in question, lead quality inspector Jose Moran, testified that Musk summoned him another worker to a meeting in which he told them, “the majority of the workers at Tesla don’t want a union, and why do we want to pay union dues?” Musk then brought up the possibility of Moran attending safety committee meetings, adding if “don’t work out, then we’ll give you your union.”
That meeting was specifically named in NLRB filings that said Musk “impliedly promised to remedy their safety complaints if they refrained from their union organizational activity,” Bloomberg added. Later, the NLRB amended their complaint to include a May 2018 tweet in which Musk appeared to suggest that a successful unionization drive would result in employees losing their stock options.