UAW strike chaos isn't all good news for Tesla

  • Big gains in the UAW strike could bolster another organizing drive at Tesla.

  • The union effort could also pressure Volkswagen, Honda, and Toyota.

  • The UAW is looking to remake its reputation among auto workers.

As disgruntled workers revolt at General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis, it's business as usual at Elon Musk's Tesla. At least for now.

In some ways, the auto worker's strike is a boon for the non-union electric-vehicle maker — in that it may saddle Tesla's competitors with extra labor costs at a time when they're desperately trying to turn a profit on EVs.

But a big contract win for the United Auto Workers could also give the union the renewed credibility it needs to mount successful organizing campaigns at Tesla and other non-union manufacturing plants, labor experts told Insider.

"This is a fight not just for the people working at Ford, GM, and Stellantis, this is absolutely a fight for all of the working class," Arthur Wheaton, a labor expert at Cornell University, said.

Hefty wage increases and better job security at the Big Three could make unionizing more attractive for Tesla workers, Wheaton and other labor experts told Insider this week. Tesla, founded nearly 70 years after the UAW first organized the Detroit Three, is the only major American automaker whose workforce isn't represented by the union.

Organizing pressure could also spill over to foreign manufacturers that build cars in the US, like Volkswagen, Honda, and Toyota. Those companies may also be compelled to raise wages to meet the new union rate, according to labor experts.

As part of its historic strike at all three Detroit car companies, the UAW is demanding staggering 40% wage increases, which UAW President Shawn Fain says reflect years of rising profits and executive paydays. The union's aggressive tactics and ambitious asks come as it looks to claw back both the worker benefits and industry-wide influence it lost during the Great Recession and through its own corruption scandals.

"Striking for a better future to protect our communities and to defeat corporate greed is not just our right — it's our duty," Fain told members on a Friday livestream when he expanded this UAW strike to two more Ford and GM assembly plants in Illinois and Michigan.

A new contract could spur union attempts elsewhere

The UAW strike comes amid a rejuvenated labor movement post-Covid, and after a summer jam-packed with union activism. The timing is ripe for the UAW to expand into new territory, labor experts said, particularly if it can secure a generous new contract.

About 54% of Americans support the UAW strike, according to a recent Morning Consult poll. Meanwhile, the unionization rate in auto manufacturing has fallen to 16% from nearly 60% in the mid 1980s, Jake Rosenfeld, an expert on labor unions at Washington University in St. Louis, said.

In a time of stagnating wages and climbing corporate profits, the UAW's overarching message of fair wages for fair work has resonated with Americans across party lines, said Kate Andrias, a labor law expert at Columbia University.

"There's a deep concern about economic inequality in this country, and the problem of the very, very, very rich being the only ones benefiting from productivity gains and technological gains," Andrias said.

Organizing at Tesla still won't be easy

Some Tesla workers are in the early stages of forming a union, a UAW official told The New York Times. But rallying Tesla's workers — who assemble cars, battery packs, solar panels, and EV chargers at plants in New York, California, Nevada, and Texas — will be an uphill battle even with a hot new contract in hand. The UAW has tried and failed to organize workers at Tesla before.

Current labor laws don't come with strong enough penalties to deter a "viciously anti-union company" like Tesla from squashing activism with relative impunity, Rosenfeld said.

The National Labor Relations Board has previously found that Tesla and Musk violated labor laws after firing a union organizer and tweeting an anti-union message. Musk was ordered to hire back the employee with backpay and delete the tweet (the tweet still exists).

"If you are a powerful private corporation dead set against a unionization drive, it's hard to imagine you losing that battle," Rosenfeld said.

Read the original article on Business Insider