Tesla CEO Elon Musk sent a bad tweet on May 21, 2018, and that is normal because all tweets are bad. But now Musk’s tweet has also been ruled illegal.
The backstory involves a unionization effort at Tesla’s Fremont, California, plant, which Musk derided at the time, claiming that Tesla workers were well compensated. “They are the highest paid in the industry if you include the equity, which obviously you should include,” he said in a conference call arranged to discuss Tesla’s fourth-quarter results for 2017.
Tesla has to make Musk delete a tweet. This is the tweet in question:
The National Labor Relations Board ruled that the part about union dues and stock options was unlawful coercion, because threatening to take away part of someone’s compensation — in this case the stock options — if employees form a union is illegal. Written notices also must be posted advising Tesla employees of their organizing rights.
The NLRB also ruled that because of the labor law violations, Tesla must rehire an employee named Richard Ortiz and give him back pay. Ortiz had been fired in October 2017.
The UAW, which was behind the organizing effort, issued the following statement:
“This is a great victory for workers who have the courage to stand up and organize in a system that is currently stacked heavily in favor of employers like Tesla who have no qualms about violating the law,” said UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada, Director of the UAW Organizing Department. “While we celebrate the justice in today’s ruling, it nevertheless highlights the substantial flaws in US labor law. 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.”
Two Republicans and one Democrat on the five-person NLRB voted in favor of the decision, which stopped short of making Musk read his own employees their rights. Tesla has not responded to a request for comment.
NLRB Chair Lauren McFerran, currently the board’s sole Democratic member, supported having the notice read aloud but was outvoted on that point by her Republican colleagues. McFerran’s reasoning was that Tesla committed “numerous” violations of the law, according to the ruling, several of them perpetrated by top company officials.
Posting a written notice sends a much weaker signal to employees than making executives read it aloud, said Harvard Law School professor Benjamin Sachs, who suggested that forcing Musk to post the notice on his Twitter account would also have been a more fitting remedy.
When executives have to read the notice to employees, he said, it shows workers “that the boss is not the only authority in the world — that the law is a higher authority than the boss.”
Unionize your workplace if you can. And never tweet.
You can read the NLRB’s full decision below.