Some workers at Tesla’s Freemont, California electric car factory are following a common play from the union organizing handbook: file specious unfair labor practice charges. Unions often file these to increase the employer’s cost of defending against unionization, to throw red herrings at the employer during the organizing campaign, and to foster media interest in the organizing activity. Here, pro-union employees alleged the company engaged in illegal surveillance, coercion, intimidation, and prevented worker communication. Let’s explore these allegations a bit further.
Tesla workers passed out flyers to their colleagues, during a shift change, that featured the blog post by co-worker Jose Moran. According to the ULP, Tesla “conducted surveillance” on these employees. Well, activity conducted in public spaces are public and an employer is rarely guilty of “surveillance” of conduct occurring in public. The same is true for conduct performed in areas where surveillance cameras are located.
Tesla supposedly held an employee meeting to remind workers that they were not allowed to pass out any literature unless it was pre-approved by Tesla. This is a lawful policy so long as it is enforced against all literature, not just pro-union literature.
Tesla also supposedly had employees sign confidentiality agreements threatening “loss of employment” and “possible criminal prosecution” for speaking publicly about “everything that you work on, learn about, or observe in your work about Tesla.” This may be a bit broad, but the intent appears to protect the company’s trade secrets. Confidentiality clauses tailored to prevent the public disclosure of trade secrets is perfectly lawful.
And there you have it. Specious allegations in an unfair labor practice charge filed by a union trying to organize workers. In the words of Hilary Clinton, this is charge amounts to a big fat nothing burger.
Matt Austin owns Austin Legal, LLC, a boutique law firm based in Ohio that limits its representation to employers dealing with labor, employment, and OSHA matters. You can call Matt at (614) 285-5342 or email him at Matt@MattAustinLaborLaw.com.