Tesla CEO Elon Musk has invited the United Auto Workers (UAW) to hold a union vote at the company’s facility in Fremont, California. While this may fool you into believing the executive has had a change of heart in regard to unionization, Musk seems to be inviting the labor group into a trap to dunk on his political enemies.
It’s no secret that there’s been bad blood between Tesla and the Biden administration. The White House has repeatedly left the automaker out of its discussions pertaining to industry regulation and proposed additional financial incentives for automakers using unionized labor to build electric vehicles. As the world’s largest purveyor of EVs by far, Musk believes his organization deserves some acknowledgment and has noted that the UAW is one of the Democratic Party’s staunchest allies. He’s asking for the vote in Fremont because he clearly thinks it will fail.
If you want some background for how we got to this point, here is some light reading with the relevant hyperlinks.
The UAW has been hoping to make inroads with Tesla for years and Musk has been openly opposed to the idea. He also butted heads with California and Alameda County over COVID restrictions in 2020, with the CEO telling employees they could do as they pleased but that the company wanted to avoid production stalls. This encouraged Tesla to lay fresh roots in Texas, with Musk suggesting California was becoming too restrictive.
Despite openly describing himself as “socially liberal but fiscally conservative,” Elon has enjoyed what can be favorably described as a combative relationship with the Biden administration. He has frequently criticized the Build Back Better Act, noting that the proposed legislation would give serious advantages to legacy automakers with ties to the UAW. Though he didn’t want Tesla to receive more government incentives. As an alternative, Musk proposed allowing the existing EV tax credit system (which Tesla is now ineligible for) to run its course as he bemoaned Build Back Better as financially irresponsible.
The White House has been less direct by comparison, frequently acting like Tesla doesn’t even exist. It’s sort of a bewildering play when you consider Tesla has the highest valuation of any American automaker and seems wholly aligned with Biden’s pro-EV agenda. But it’s been assumed that Musk’s repeated opposition to having the UAW inside his factories has played a significant factor. So we end up seeing Ford and General Motors executives being called up for talks in the Oval Office and being praised during press events, rather than Tesla.
Bloomberg said as much last month, then it continued the story after Musk issued his dare to the union over social media following the White House’s praising of GM:
Biden has repeatedly left Tesla off the the guest lists and out of the prepared remarks he’s made promoting America’s EV industry. He’s instead praised General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., which make and sell fewer electric cars but employ tens of thousands of UAW workers. Bloomberg News reported last month that the president’s antipathy toward Tesla mainly has to do with Musk’s hostility toward unions.
The National Labor Relations Board ruled last year that Tesla had repeatedly violated U.S. labor law, including by firing a union activist, and needed to make Musk delete a May 2018 tweet that suggested workers would give up company-paid stock if they chose to unionize. Tesla appealed and has argued Musk’s tweet was protected by the First Amendment.
On Monday, Elon had responded to Joe Biden’s social media — addressing it to the “person controlling this twitter” — stating that Tesla had created over 50,000 U.S. jobs while building more EVs than GM and Ford combined. This was quickly met with supportive criticism from Gene Simmons of KISS fame, who accused the Biden admin of snubbing Tesla for its anti-union stance. Further backed by Tesla owners sharing stories about UAW corruption, the fact that Ford builds the Mach-E in Mexico, and claims that Fremont workers received the highest compensation in the country, Musk came back suggesting they might as well hold a vote to see what happens.
“Our real challenge is Bay Area has negative unemployment, so if we don’t treat and compensate our (awesome) people well, they have many other offers and will just leave! I’d like hereby to invite UAW to hold a union vote at their convenience,” he said. “Tesla will do nothing to stop them.”
This is petty drama, to be sure. But it’s interesting how often that ends up influencing the industry and its ongoing relationship with the government.
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