Glenn Spencer Glenn Spencer
Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division, U.S. Chamber of Commerce


February 17, 2023


On February 15, a group of workers at a Tesla facility in Buffalo, New York announced their intention to seek a union. The facility in question does not actually build cars but instead builds and analyzes some of the systems that go into vehicles. It appears that the union is seeking to organize 800 autopilot analysts for now, with plans to go after another 1,000 workers at the plant later. 

Given that Tesla builds cars, it would seem logical for the United Auto Workers (UAW) to lead the campaign. However, it’s being pushed by Workers United, which is the same union that has launched campaigns at Starbucks and is just a front for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). One wonders if the UAW will just sit this one out, or if it will make any effort to keep a union known mostly for organizing janitors and hospital workers away from the auto industry. 

Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, has been known to express his opinions on various subjects, so it will be interesting to see how the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) views any statements he might make about the potential union drive. As of late, the NLRB has been on a campaign to silence employers, including CEOs, when they discuss unions. In addition to the General Counsel attempting to ban employee meetings where union issues might be discussed, the NLRB has also initiated a complaint against Amazon CEO Andy Jassy for some generic, non-controversial statements he made about unions in two TV interviews. This action triggered a letter from the U.S. Chamber to the NLRB’s Inspector General asking him to protect free speech rights guaranteed by the Taft-Hartley Act.   

The media will undoubtedly play up this story as part of the supposed “wave” of union organizing, a narrative that has been fed by campaigns at a number of Starbucks stores. But as a recent U.S. Chamber blog noted, the Starbucks drive has decelerated considerably over the past few months. Moreover, union density fell yet again in 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. 

Announcing an effort to unionize and actually completing the process are two different things, so there will be a lot more to play out here. Regardless of how the campaign turns out, it will be interesting to see if the NLRB uses it as another excuse to try and shut down free speech.   

About the authors

Glenn Spencer

Glenn Spencer

Spencer oversees the Chamber’s work on immigration, retirement security, traditional labor relations, human trafficking, wage hour and worker safety issues, EEOC matters, and state labor and employment law.

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