Swedish union blocks Tesla components as dispute intensifies

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – The conflict between Swedish unions and Tesla heated up on Friday as a supplier of critical components joined in a sympathy action to get the electric car maker to sign a collective bargaining agreement for its Swedish workers.

Around 50 workers that make specialized Tesla components at Hydro Extrusions, a subsidiary of Norwegian aluminium and energy company Hydro, will either stay at home or be given other tasks from Friday until further notice, the IF Metall union said.

“They deliver components to Tesla’s factory in Berlin, and if this causes disruption to them we hope to force them back to the negotiation table,” said IF Metall negotiation secretary Veli-Pekka Saikkala, adding Hydro Extrusions was the only supplier of the components in Europe.

IF Metall, Sweden’s biggest manufacturing union, is locked in a fight with Tesla to get a collective bargaining agreement for its 130 mechanics in Sweden. Metall put the mechanics on strike on Oct. 27, refusing to service Tesla’s cars.

Since then, the mechanics have been joined by members of other unions such as postal workers, dockworkers, cleaners and others who refuse to work with Tesla or its products.

Saikkala said the union was prepared to ramp up the conflict if Tesla refused to sign.

“This fight is very, very important. It’s so important that we cannot let it go. It’s important for us but also for the whole Swedish labour market,” he said.

Tesla did not reply to several requests for comment.

The U.S. carmaker has a policy to not sign collective bargaining agreements and says its employees have as good or better terms than what the Swedish union is demanding. The union says it is vital to the Swedish labour market model that all companies have collective agreements.

“We don’t have any minimum wages or laws for when you can and cannot work in Sweden. We have frameworks and employment protection, but apart from that, it is collective bargaining agreements that regulate the labour market,” said Torbjorn Johansson, negotiation secretary at LO, the union umbrella organization.

Around 90% of all employees in Sweden are covered by collective bargaining agreements, which regulates wages, vacation, overtime pay and other conditions.

“We treat everyone the same, and the employer also gets a healthy competition. If we allow Elon Musk to have different competition than everyone else, then the whole model will erode. That would be devastating,” said Johansson, referring to Tesla’s CEO.

Hydro Extrusions’ Vetlanda plant makes aluminium profiles – aluminium alloys transformed into shapes and used in safety features, and is the first Tesla supplier in Sweden to down tools in support of the mechanics’ strike.

(Reporting by Johan Ahlander and Marie Mannes in Stockholm, Victoria Waldersee in Berlin; Editing by Susan Fenton)