Tesla Accused of Violating Labor Laws After Forbidding Employees to Discuss Wages

Elon Musk will clash with NLRB again, this time because Tesla violated labor laws in Florida 6 photos
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Tesla has a long history of clashes with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Its constant efforts to prevent unionizing are at the core of most of them, but the latest one is new. NLRB said the EV maker violated labor laws after forbidding employees at a Tesla Service Center in Orlando, Florida, to discuss wages, the discharge, and suspension of their colleagues.
Bloomberg discovered a complaint filed in September about this case. It reports at least four occasions in which that happened: December 2021, January 20, 2022, and two other redacted dates in 2022. It is not clear why the document does not bring that information, but it also omits the names of the Tesla managers that were in charge of giving the Tesla Service Center staff those orders.

NLRB said that Tesla told its employees in December 2021 not to discuss their pay with other persons. It also told them not to complain to higher-level managers about their salary or other terms and conditions of employment, which was a direct contradiction of something Elon Musk established at the company: the “open door” policy.

To be more specific, the Tesla CEO sent all employees an email message that was revealed on August 30, 2017, by an Inc. story. In that email, Musk said that all employees were encouraged to speak to anyone else in the company to get problems solved. He said following hierarchy to communicate and sort things out was “incredibly dumb. Any manager who allows this to happen, let alone encourages it, will soon find themselves working at another company. No kidding.”

What truly happened in most cases was that the employees following this policy had to work at other companies – when they were lucky enough. Cristina Balan tried to talk to Musk and said she was forced to resign. A while later, Tesla accused her of embezzlement and kickback in a Huffington Post story that destroyed her career. Balan has tried to sue Tesla for defamation and is still trying to prove her innocence.

On January 20, 2022, Tesla once again told employees not to discuss with higher-level managers about terms and conditions of employment or the hiring of employees with other persons. On the two other undisclosed 2022 dates, it told them not to discuss an employee suspension and another employee’s discharge.

According to NLRB, these attitudes hurt the NLRB Act, more specifically, Section 7 and Section 8(a)(1), which you can read below:

Sec. 7. [§ 157.] Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all of such activities except to the extent that such right may be affected by an agreement requiring membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment as authorized in section 8(a)(3) [section 158(a)(3) of this title].

Sec. 8. [§ 158.] (a) [Unfair labor practices by employer] It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer-- (1) to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in section 7 [section 157 of this title]”

Bloomberg contacted NLRB, and Kayla Blado said an agency judge would hear arguments at a February hearing. Depending on this judge’s decision, Tesla can appeal to NLRB members, and if that does not work, it can go to a federal court. That’s what it decided to do when NLRB ruled that it had to reinstate Richard Ortiz after firing him for trying to unionize the Fremont factory. NLRB also ordered Musk to erase a tweet. While Tesla waits for the appeal decision, he can keep it online – and there it is.

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Editor's note: The gallery contains images of union protests, for illustration purposes

 Download: NLRB complaint against Tesla (PDF)

About the author: Gustavo Henrique Ruffo
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Motoring writer since 1998, Gustavo wants to write relevant stories about cars and their shift to a sustainable future.
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