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UAW Aims to Disrupt Tesla in New York

Union has been embroiled in bitter campaign to organize luxury electric car company

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• April 5, 2018 1:05 pm

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The United Auto Workers are campaigning to disrupt operations for luxury carmaker Tesla in New York.

The UAW has been campaigning to unionize workers at Tesla's California factory for the past several years but has yet to hold an election. Instead it has pursued political lobbying in an effort to disrupt the electric car company. UAW Region 9 issued a letter decrying legislation in New York that would allow Tesla to distribute vehicles directly to consumers rather than through traditional car dealerships—a cornerstone of the company's business model. The bipartisan bill would allow the electric car company to operate up to 20 centers across the state.

The letter opens by calling Tesla a "viciously anti-union, anti-worker corporation" and said its business model would hurt workers in the state and put car dealerships at risk. The union said more than 800 businesses rely on the traditional vehicle distribution system to operate and granting Tesla privileges would threaten their livelihoods.

"This bill allows New York State to abandon its franchise dealership system at the request of a single anti-union company," the letter says. "Giving Tesla special treatment creates an uneven playing field putting other manufacturers and their franchisees at a competitive disadvantage."

A Tesla spokesman disputed the UAW's assertions that the company does not value employees. He called the union's attempt to hinder Tesla's expansion counterproductive, saying it would hurt the workers that the UAW claims to support.

"We're sure our employees, all of whom are owners of the company, appreciate that the UAW is actively trying to prevent the cars they build from being sold," the spokesman said in an email. "We like our irony served with a side of fries."

This is not the first time organized labor has lobbied lawmakers to prevent Tesla from acquiring legislative perks. In September, the California Labor Federation, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, successfully lobbied lawmakers to end tax breaks given to people who purchase the electric vehicles—Tesla's products range in base price from $36,000 to $80,700—unless the state Labor Department certified the automakers as "fair and responsible in the treatment of their workers." Democratic governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation on September 16. The department will begin the certification process in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

The union has been aggressive in its New York campaign. It accuses Tesla of seeking to circumvent longstanding rules that traditional automakers have operated under. Giving the company the ability to forgo the franchise model and benefit from direct sales would give it an advantage over car companies with heavily unionized workforces.

"Tesla motors is the only business supporting this legislation because it simply does not want to play by the same rules as everyone else which require automakers to use franchised dealerships," the letter says. "There is no reason why New York should take on the risk of this market disruption, as it only jeopardizes good paying jobs, many of which are provided by unionized dealerships."

Labor watchdog Union Forward criticized the UAW for targeting Tesla. The organization called the union's stance "shocking" because of the impact it could have on Tesla operations in the state.

"How can the UAW credibly claim to be ‘pro-worker' in Fremont [Calif.], when it's undermining those same workers across the country?" Union Forward said in an email. "The UAW's opposition is shocking, given the union's ongoing attempt to organize Tesla's factory."

The UAW has also taken its campaign to federal regulators. Labor supporters have filed several unfair labor practice complaints to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which oversees labor disputes and union elections. In August the agency launched an investigation into Tesla, which denies all allegations that it retaliated against union supporters.

Published under: Tesla, UAW