Some Tesla workers say they'd never join a union, even as Ford and GM workers get big raises

Some Tesla workers say they'd never join a union, even as Ford and GM workers get big raises

The
UAW has said it’s set its sights on
Tesla.
Michael Swensen/Getty Images and Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

The UAW wants to unionize more U.S. automakers after reaching tentative agreements with the Big Three.
While Elon Musk has spoken out against unions, a major Tesla factory reportedly has a UAW organizing committee that’s speaking with workers.
Some Tesla workers say they wouldn’t join a unionized company and predicted the UAW would struggle to find footing at Tesla.

The United Auto Workers might have set its sights on Tesla, but some workers at the EV company told Insider they’d be hard-pressed to join a union.

After reaching tentative agreements with Detroit automakers, the union’s president, Shawn Fain, said last week that the UAW aims to expand its reach. And what better target than the most valuable car company in the world?

Musk, for his part, has in the past publicly invited the UAW to hold a union election at Tesla, expressing confidence that his workers would vote against organizing and claiming that “former UAW members who work at Tesla are not huge fans of UAW.” Tesla employs over 127,000 workers across the globe, including over 20,000 at its Fremont factory in California.

With the new UAW contracts, Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis are set to spend up to $35 more per hour than Tesla on labor costs, including hourly wages and benefits. Even before the 36-day strike, Ford and GM already spent over $20 more per hour on factory workers than Tesla, according to analysts. Musk said on X in September that Tesla pays more than the UAW and Tesla workers can also benefit from the company’s employee stock offerings, claiming that “quite a few of our factory techs who work on the line have become millionaires.”

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Yet even as the UAW made headlines this year and some experts speculated that Tesla could benefit from the autoworkers strike, nine Tesla workers told Insider that the strike was far from a topic of conversation at Tesla — and few factory workers were even aware of the UAW’s initial demands.

Despite the pay difference, seven Tesla workers told Insider they wouldn’t want to work in a unionized factory and predicted that the UAW would struggle to find its footing at the EV company. The workers spoke under the condition of anonymity in order to avoid potential repercussions for speaking publicly about their employer.

Tesla’s ‘startup culture’

“Tesla still very much has a startup culture and that’s a lot different than a union culture,” one Tesla worker at the Fremont factory told Insider. “I think people join Tesla because they want to work hard. They want to push themselves. They want to find ways to stand out by going above and beyond and that’s difficult to do in a union.”

Two Tesla workers previously told Insider they’d joined the company’s factory line straight out of engineering school in hopes they could work their way up to an engineering role at Elon Musk’s company. But even internal applications at Tesla are highly competitive, and the workers said they have yet to make their way off the factory floor. The carmaker has no shortage of interest, with over 3.6 million people applying to work at the company last year.

The company also likely knows how to weed out pro-union employees, three workers said.

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“That kind of person probably wouldn’t even make it through the interview process,” a Tesla engineer said.

The electric-car maker and its CEO aren’t exactly known for being union-friendly. The company has been accused of prohibiting workers from wearing union paraphernalia and unlawfully terminating employees who sought to unionize. Earlier this year, the National Labor Relations Board alleged that Tesla laid off dozens of workers at its Buffalo New York site after the employees had announced plans to unionize. Similarly in 2021, the NLRB  ruled that Tesla and Musk “unlawfully threatened” the workers hoping to unionize in 2017 and ordered the company to rehire a union activist worker it had fired even after Tesla attempted to appeal the decision. The group said Tesla “interrogated” employees involved in the effort and ordered Musk to delete a tweet it deemed “anti-union.” 

Tesla has never held a union vote at any of its US facilities. Though, German union IG Metall said last month that some Tesla workers at the company’s Brandenburg plant had joined its union.

Tesla has never held a union vote at any of its US facilities.
Christian Marquard/Getty Images

“I would say no one talks about unionizing, but it also might be an unfair gauge,” another Fremont worker said. “It’s not like it’s something you would talk about openly at Tesla.”

Still, other workers told Insider they wouldn’t jump ship even for a better pay package at a unionized company.

“I think for a lot of the people that work at Tesla, it’s not just a job,” an additional Fremont factory worker said. “People are proud of what they do here. They believe in the mission of the company.”

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Nonetheless, there are some signs that some workers within Tesla are at least exploring the option of unionizing. Earlier this week, Bloomberg reported that Tesla’s Fremont factory has a UAW organizing committee that is talking to workers.

Two Tesla factory workers told Insider they wished they could be paid more for their work and would be open to some of the benefits of a union, especially when it comes to combatting the high cost of living near Tesla’s factories.

“I don’t think anyone would think twice about getting paid more,” an Austin worker said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to take care of your family.”

UAW boss Fain has previously said Tesla’s pay is “pitiful” and workers are just getting by so that “greedy people like Elon Musk can build more rocket ships.” 

“Workers in this country have got to decide if they want a better life for themselves, instead of scraping to get by paycheck to paycheck, while everybody else walks away with the loot,” Fain said in an interview in September.

A spokesperson for Tesla did not respond to a request for comment from Insider ahead of publication. In September, Musk said the UAW’s initial strike demands would drive the big 3 automakers “bankrupt.”

Do you work for Tesla or have a tip? Reach out to the reporter from a non-work email at gkay@insider.com or via Signal at 248-894-6012