Several employees of the Autopilot division based at the Tesla factory located in Buffalo, New York, have decided to unite and create a union to denounce their working conditions. A great first for the brand, often criticized for its very strict management methods. It has also just dismissed several employees at the origin of this movement.
Is this the start of a new era for Tesla? Indeed, for a few days, a wind of revolution has been blowing on the Buffalo Gigafactory, located in the State of New York. In this factory, which is not dedicated to the manufacture of cars, like the one in Berlin, but to the production of photovoltaic cells, something unusual is indeed happening. And that should not please Elon Musk, who is already preparing for a difficult year due to Chinese competition.
A new union?
But then, what is really going on in Buffalo? As announced by the Bloomberg site, several employees have decided to meet in order to protest against the working conditions imposed by the manufacturer, which broke a sales record in 2022 with more than one million cars delivered worldwide. These employees, who work on the development of the Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system, have indeed sent an email to Elon Musk announcing their intention to unionize.
The latter in fact denounce dangerous working conditions, while a group complaint had already been launched last November by several subcontractors against the Texas-based firm. But this is the first time that brand employees have rebelled, while the manufacturer has always been hostile to unions.
— TeslaWorkersUnited (@united_tesla) February 14, 2023
As the Siècle Digital site recalls, Tesla had closed an internal chat room a little earlier where employees expressed their dissatisfaction. But then, what are the demands of this group of employees, who are now seeking to convince their colleagues from other branches? Helped by Workers Unitedwhich has already assisted Starbucks employees in a similar process, the latter denounce dangerous working conditions and are tired of being “treated like robots” according to Al Celli, one of the members of this union.
They then deplore constant pressure from their company, in particular opposed to the practice of teleworking, while it constantly monitors keystrokes on the keyboard in real time, in order to ensure that employees are the most possible productive. To the extent that some even avoid taking breaks to go to the bathroom. The salary increase is also part of the demands, while this one would be $19 an hour, or about 17 euros according to the current exchange rate. The minimum hourly rate is set at $14.2 in the United States.
To compare, the hourly minimum wage in France is currently 11.27 euros gross (but with the integration of social benefits, such as unemployment or Social Security). If the unions are omnipresent in France, while a new strike is precisely taking place in transport, in particular this Thursday, February 16, it is not the same thing in the United States. The country is by definition hostile to this type of social organization, although more and more employees still decide to unite to denounce their working conditions.
This is particularly the case at Google, Amazon or even Activision. But they must then face strong hostility from the leaders. And employees at Tesla are of course no exception, since in 2018, Elon Musk threatened to withdraw the shares of its employees who would consider rebelling. In 2022, the executive also said his company offered the best compensation in the industry.
The next step will now be the organization of a vote by the employees, who would be 800 to work for Autopilot, out of the 2,000 employees at the Buffalo plant. As the BBC website explains, if 30% of workers support the creation of a union, Tesla would then be obliged to negotiate with employees on working conditions and wages.
If this approach succeeds, then it will mark a new stage in favor of labor law in the United States, while the movement could accelerate and concern other factories, even other companies.
Tesla lays off employees
But it should be much more complicated than expected. Indeed, and as another Bloomberg article relates, several dozen employees at the origin of the movement would have been fired by Tesla. If the brand has not spoken on the subject, at least one of the 25 dismissed employees would be among those who denounced the working conditions within the company. According to a complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) of the United States, these dismissals would take place “in retaliation for union activity and to discourage union activity“.
The brand does not give reasons for this measure, but the Bloomberg report points out that employees received a warning about the use of technology in their workplace. Tesla then called on them to “protect the confidentiality, integrity and security of all business information“.
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