Tesla’s Autopilot Workers Tell Elon They Want to Unionize

If the union push from Tesla Workers United in Buffalo succeeds, it would be Tesla’s first successful union effort.
If the union push from Tesla Workers United in Buffalo succeeds, it would be Tesla’s first successful union effort.

Today, Tesla Autopilot workers in the company’s Gigafactory in Buffalo, New York have officially kicked off the union push with a letter to management, formally announcing their bid to unionize.

According to a report from Bloomberg, the employees behind the union push sent an email to Elon Musk and management today. The employees work on Tesla’s Autopilot project, and claim that the company actively tracks keystrokes to gauge how long employees spend on various work tasks, which some employees told Bloomberg prevents them from taking bathroom breaks. The union is pushing for better pay, job security, and protections that the company will not retaliate against union members.

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“Tesla has demonstrated that as a company, it stands out among the rest in the industry,” Tesla Workers United wrote on its website. “As workers, we are proud to contribute to making this the case. We are organizing a union, with Workers United Upstate New York, that looks to be as innovative as the company we work for and to build an even more collaborative environment that will strengthen the company.”

Tesla and Tesla Workers United did not immediately return Gizmodo’s request for comment.

The Buffalo Gigafactory reportedly has 800 Autopilot analysts that identify objects in images from vehicle cameras, which helps the software recognize obstacles on the road. Pay starts at $19 per hour according to Bloomberg, but the workers feel pressured to work as much and as fast as they can, which they hope the union can curb.

“I believe in Tesla, our mission, and the work I do at the company,” said Zahra Lahrache in a statement emailed to Gizmodo. Lahrache has been working at Tesla for 5 months and is a part of Buffalo’s Tesla Workers United. “As much as I love my job, it can feel very disheartening living paycheck to paycheck when I work for one of the most successful companies in the world, and that is why I am exercising my right to unionize. I believe this will help uplift not only the workforce, but the company itself.”

Tesla and CEO Elon Musk has been vocally anti-union in the past. Musk—the free speech absolutist—has such faith that he pays and treats his employees well that he invited the United Auto Workers to hold a vote to unionize the company’s factory in Fremont, California. Tesla, in the past, has reportedly retaliated against union efforts, such as when the company punished employees for wearing union clothing and instructed not to speak about their salaries.

Tesla has so far been able to resist unionization efforts, but Buffalo’s Tesla Workers United—if it succeeds—would be the company’s first.

Update February 14 9:49 a.m. EST: This article was updated to include comment from Tesla Workers United.

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