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Last night, like many other nights, Elon Musk was tweeting. In this case, he was tweeting to Gene Simmons of Kiss about the size and workforce of Tesla’s California plant. Another user—whose first word in his Twitter bio is “@ElonMusk” and the fourth is “Tesla”—replied about unionization. Then things got interesting, as Musk dared the United Auto Workers, which has been attempting to organize the Tesla factory for years, to hold a union vote.
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“Our real challenge is Bay Area has negative unemployment, so if we don’t treat and compensate our (awesome) people well, they have many other offers and will just leave!” Musk tweeted. (According to the California Employment Development Department, the unemployment rate in the Bay Area is 2.9 percent.) “I’d like hereby to invite UAW to hold a union vote at their convenience. Tesla will do nothing to stop them.”If Musk and Tesla did indeed follow through on this promise to “do nothing to stop them,” it would be a significant break from Tesla’s past. The National Labor Relations Board has found Tesla and Musk repeatedly violated labor rules, including by firing a labor organizer and tweeting anti-union sentiments. And in 2017 Musk sent an email to factory workers slamming a union drive which never went to a vote.In fact, the tweet Musk was ordered to delete is an illustrative example of why Musk keeps daring UAW to organize his factory. Not because there aren’t widespread grievances, but because he knows enforcing any labor violations he may or may not commit is a slow and often ineffective process. The tweet Musk sent in May 2018 said, “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?” The NLRB ordered him to delete it almost three years later, in March 2021, but the case is on appeal, so the tweet is still up.