The National Labor Relations Board has filed an amended complaint against Tesla, reigniting a fight between the independent government agency and the automaker over alleged workplace violations.
Tesla is reeling from a particularly troublesome week, after a safety regulator launched an investigation into a deadly crash involving a Model X and Moody’s downgraded the automaker’s credit rating, potentially making it more expensive for it to borrow money. Tesla’s stock price took a nosedive in response to the news.
Now the automaker has to address claims from the NLRB. Last August, the labor agency filed a complaint against Tesla, saying it found merit to allegations previously made by Tesla employees about unfair labor practices. The filing came after months of organizing by pro-union employees who were supported by the United auto Workers.
A hearing was scheduled for mid-November, but the NLRB had postponed it to investigate new claims brought by workers. After months of additional work, the NLRB filed an amended complaint on Friday against the automaker, after sources said earlier that it was expected to include new charges.
The new complaint, obtained by Jalopnik, mirrors a list of charges included in last summer’s filing from the NLRB, which accused Tesla of preventing workers from distributing union materials, with some workers allegedly being interrogated and threatened over their efforts. Tesla’s actions, the NLRB asserted, violates the National Labor Relations Act.
Tesla said in a statement to Jalopnik: “We have over 37,000 individuals working towards a mission to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy, and we care about creating a great culture and future for our employees.”
Tesla said the NLRB offered a settlement on the same claims previously alleged by the UAW, but the automaker rejected the proposed agreement.
The NLRB’s complaint alleges that Tesla HR prohibited employees from taking pictures of confidentiality agreement they were required to sign, and claims that security guards “restrained and coerced off-duty employees who were engaged in leafleting” at Tesla’s factory. Supervisors also allegedly threatened to fire employees who passed out “stickers, leaflets, or materials that were not approved.”
Tesla said claims in the complaint were typical for unions engaged in an organizing effort. For instance, Tesla said the complaint claims that Tesla terminated an employee for engaging in union activities, but claims the employee was terminated for inappropriately using personnel records to harass other employees and later lied about his actions.
The company further denied a string of numerous claims in the complaint, saying:
These allegations from the UAW are nothing new. The only thing that’s changed since the UAW filed these charges is that many of the allegations have been outright dismissed or are not being pursued by the NLRB. There’s no merit to any of them. We will continue to fight for what is right.
The NLRB board isn’t pursuing some of the original claims made by employees over the last year, Tesla said.
Tesla faced a wave of public complaints throughout 2017 about pay, safety and alleged labor right violations at the automaker’s California assembly plant, and has continued to push back against the UAW’s organizing effort. The UAW has been actively working for months to unionize Tesla’s factory, an idea rebuffed by CEO Elon Musk, who has gone so far as to claim he’d work the same tasks as injured employees.
After Tesla fired several hundred employees in October, citing “performance” issues, the UAW filed a claim with the NLRB, accusing the company of dismissing employees who openly advocated for unionizing the California factory. Terminated employees have pushed back against Tesla’s narrative, saying they received excellent remarks in their last known performance reviews. (Tesla has denied these charges.)
The UAW also filed claims over alleged violations at Tesla’s Gigafactory, as Jalopnik first reported, but the NLRB dismissed the charges earlier this month, saying there was insufficient evidence to establish violations.
Worker conditions at Tesla’s California plant have continued to be a focus, as the automaker has struggled to ramp up production of the Model 3 sedan, its attempt at producing a more-affordable electric car. This week, Bloomberg reported that Tesla suspended production on the Model S and X line and gave affected workers the chance to instead help on the Model 3 line. Tesla execs implored workers to help out and show critics it can produce more Model 3s.
“Let’s make them regret ever betting against us,” Doug Field, Tesla’s engineering chief, wrote in an email obtained by Bloomberg. “You will prove a bunch of haters wrong.” Tesla has said the option for Model S/X workers was unrelated to the Model 3, but declined to elaborate on why the S and X lines were to be suspended.
A hearing is scheduled for June 11, 2018 at 9 a.m. at the Oakland Regional Office of the National Labor Relations Board.
Update 10:05 p.m.: This story has been updated with additional comments from Tesla.
Update 11:15 p.m.: Here’s a copy of the complaint: