(Reuters) – Tesla Inc Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said on Thursday he was inviting labor union United Auto Workers (UAW) to hold a vote at the electric carmaker's California factory.
The announcement comes three months after the billionaire entrepreneur criticized the Biden administration and Democrats for a proposal to give union-made, U.S.-built electric vehicles an additional $4,500 tax incentive. Tesla and foreign automakers do not have unions at their U.S. factories.
Organizing a Tesla plant would be a major victory for the UAW, which has largely failed to win the backing of workers at foreign-owned automakers' or EV startups' assembly plants, many of which are in the U.S. South. Tesla also has a plant in Austin, Texas.
In his tweet on Thursday, Musk said the real challenge was the negative unemployment in Bay Area, and not compensating people well would make them leave as they have many offers.
"I'd like hereby to invite UAW to hold a union vote at their convenience. Tesla will do nothing to stop them," he said.
UAW did not have an immediate comment about Musk's tweet, but analysts said his actions over the past year do not match the rhetoric.
U.S. President Joe Biden has often praised the electric-vehicle (EV) efforts made by Detroit automakers General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co, even though they sell fewer EVs than Tesla.
Last month, Biden, whom Musk earlier this year compared to a "damp sock puppet," acknowledged Tesla's leadership role in making EVs after Musk repeatedly complained about being ignored. Last fall, Musk said Biden's EV policy appeared to be controlled by labor unions.
Musk has also faced the ire of U.S. National Labor Relations Board, which last year ruled the company violated U.S. labor law and ordered Tesla to direct him to delete a 2018 tweet saying employees would lose their stock options if they formed a union.
Tesla subsequently appealed the NLRB ruling with the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals and that case is still pending.
In the 2018 tweet, Musk wrote: “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.”
The NLRB also directed Tesla to offer one former employee reinstatement as well as to rescind 2017 rules that prohibited distributing union literature in its parking lot on non-work time and rules that barred distributing union stickers, leaflets, and pamphlets without first obtaining permission.
Last November, 10 environmental and advocacy groups, including Sierra Club, Greenpeace and League of Conservation Voters, called on EV startup Rivian Automotive to work with labor groups to ensure a clean future and high-paying jobs, and to allow a union voting process in its plants.
Workers at Rivian's plant in Normal, Illinois, are not unionized. Rivian previously declined to comment on the subject and could not immediately be reached on Thursday following Musk's tweet.
(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit and Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu and Nick Zieminski)
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