The U.S. National Labour Relations Board decided on Thursday that Tesla repeatedly violated U.S. labour law over the past few years: first when the company fired a union activist in 2017, and then when CEO Elon Musk put out a tweet potentially threatening that employees would lose their stock options if they chose to unionise.
As part of the decision, the NLRB mandated that Musk take down the offending tweet and that he must offer a job back to the terminated employee, Richard Ortiz, within the next two weeks. Alongside that, Tesla was also ordered to pay back Ortiz for “any loss of earnings” and “any adverse tax consequences” that resulted from his firing.
Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 21, 2018
Ortiz was one of the faces of “Fair Future for Tesla,” a 2017 organising campaign that tried to unionize the automaker. Not long after Ortiz began lobbying for better working conditions at Tesla, he was unceremoniously fired for — among other things — violating the company’s confidentiality policies after he and others spoke to the press about the less-than-stellar conditions at Tesla’s facilities. The United Auto Workers (UAW) then filed allegations against Tesla that same year.
Musk’s 2018 tweet, meanwhile, immediately drew criticism from the UAW, which filed a separate complaint with the NLRB alleging that the tweet was “a threat to the workers and a direct violation of the Labour Act.” At the time, Tesla rebutted that the tweet simply reflected the fact that union members at other major automakers don’t receive stock options. But as former NLRB chair Wilma Liebman pointed out in a Bloomberg interview about the case, Tesla employees were likely to hear that tweet as a warning: If they choose to unionize their workplace, then they’ll lose their stock options.
Aside from pulling this tweet and reinstating Ortiz’s position, the NLRB mandated that Tesla revise its confidentiality agreement to reflect national labour law, which “protects employees when they speak with the media about working conditions, labour disputes, or other terms and conditions of employment.” Previously, Tesla’s rank and file were told they could not speak to the media without explicit written permission.
“This is a great victory for workers who have the courage to stand up and organise in a system that is currently stacked heavily in favour of employers like Tesla who have no qualms about violating the law,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada in a statement.”
“While we celebrate the justice in today’s ruling, it nevertheless highlights the substantial flaws in US labour law,” she went on. “Here is a company that clearly broke the law and yet it is three years down the road before these workers achieved a modicum of justice.”
We’ve reached out to Tesla regarding the NLRB’s decision and will update here when we hear back.