Tesla says it laid off 4% New York employees before union campaign

(Reuters) -Tesla Inc said on Wednesday it laid off 4% of the employees in the Autopilot labeling team in Buffalo as part of a performance review cycle conducted every six months.

The automaker responded to a union complaint filed with a government agency alleging that the company laid off dozens of employees from its Autopilot department at its Buffalo plant in New York, a day after workers launched a campaign to form a union.

The company said the impacted employees were identified on Feb. 3, which was before the union campaign was announced. “We became aware of organizing activities approximately 10 days later,” the company said, adding that the layoffs predated any union campaign.

Earlier this week, Tesla workers in New York said they will unionize with Workers United Upstate New York, which would help give them a voice at their workplace.

The Workers United Upstate New York union in a filing with the U.S. National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) earlier on Wednesday accused the world’s most valuable automaker of hitting back by terminating some of the employees “in retaliation for union activity”.

The company fired more than 30 employees, the union said in the statement, adding that the workers also received an email with an updated policy, which prohibits them from recording workplace meetings without all participants’ permission.

“This policy violates federal labor law and also flouts New York’s one-party consent law to record conversations.”

Over the last six months, the company said the department’s employee base has grown 54% to 675 employees as of the beginning of this week, from 437 earlier. 

The employees had asked the electric carmaker to respect their right to organize a union and called on the company to sign the Fair Election Principles, which would prevent Tesla from threatening or retaliating against the workers.

Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk has in the past been vocal about his opposition to unions and said in a 2018 tweet that employees would lose their stock options if they formed a union, prompting the NLRB to ask him to delete the tweet.

(Reporting by Samrhitha Arunasalam, Akash Sriram, and Akanksha Khushi in Bengaluru; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips and Rashmi Aich)