Union behind Starbucks unionization now at Tesla


A wave of unionizations that helped revitalize the American labor movement started at a Starbucks in Buffalo, N.Y., when baristas formed the coffee company’s first union in December 2021.

Now, the same union that helped those Starbucks workers is assisting Tesla employees form the electric carmaker’s first U.S. union at a factory just six miles away, reports Bloomberg

Over two dozen employees sent a letter to Tesla management early Tuesday, saying the union wanted to strengthen the company and fight for better working conditions, job security, and pay. In a note shared on Twitter, the prospective union, called Tesla Workers United, said it was working with Workers United Upstate New York.

“We want Tesla to be the company we know it to be,” the petition said. “We believe that by having a union, we will further the mission of sustainability and foster a progressive environment for us all.”

The Buffalo factory has about 2,000 employees, about 800 of whom work for the company’s Autopilot division, the technology that allows Tesla’s cars to maneuver controls automatically. The remainder of the workers are part of manufacturing or other functions, according to the Wall Street Journal

The announcement about Tesla workers’ attempting to unionize comes after a slew of unionization efforts shaped the U.S. labor movement in 2021 and 2022. Companies like Apple, Amazon and Starbucks have long operated without dealing with unions, but in the last year, labor organizers clocked in big wins by successfully holding elections for unions and pushing for changes in working conditions. Even still, the union membership rate, which is measured by the percentage of salary and wage workers who are part of unions, broadly fell last year.

Since December 2021, when Starbucks workers first organized in Buffalo, over 250 more stores have voted in favor of unionizing. The company has adopted a hardline stance towards its unions. Starbucks has yet to agree to or sign any contracts with its unions, even though it has said it’s open to discussions. With executives pushing back and negotiations faltering, the unionization effort in the world’s largest coffeehouse chain has begun to slow in recent months with a softer pace of contract bargaining.

Unions are common in the auto industry, compared to companies like Starbucks and Apple.Long-established auto industry behemoths like Ford, Mercedes Benz and General Motors have unions in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world.

Tesla, unlike its legacy counterparts, does not have a unionized workforce in the U.S. The National Labor Relations Board ruled in 2021 that Musk violated labor laws by firing a union activist at Tesla, and the NLRB requested he remove a 2018 tweet in which he discouraged unions (the tweet is still online). Musk then invited workers at an auto union to vote on potentially unionizing at Tesla, and said the company would “do nothing to stop them,” the Journal reported.

In 2022, Tesla laid off about 200 staffers at the company’s San Mateo, Calif. office. Musk, who has also been CEO of Twitter since last October, was recently acquitted of charges from a class action lawsuit he faced after tweeting that he had the funding secured to take the auto-maker private back in 2018. 

The Tesla Workers Union did not immediately not immediately return Fortune’s request for comment. Tesla did not reply to Fortune’s request for comment—the company’s public relations department was dissolved in 2020. 

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