US senators urge Tesla, other automakers to stay neutral in union organizing

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A group of 33 senators on Thursday urged Tesla and 12 other automakers to remain neutral in ongoing efforts by the United Auto Workers (UAW) to organize U.S. auto plants.

The letter, signed by Democrats Gary Peters, Ron Wyden, Dick Durbin, Patty Murray, Alex Padilla, Sherrod Brown Debbie Stabenow and others, went to Tesla CEO Elon Musk and top executives at Toyota Motor, Volkswagen, Hyundai, Rivian, Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Nissan, BMW and others, urging them to pledge not to interfere in any organizing activities.

“We believe a neutrality agreement is the bare minimum standard manufacturers should meet in respecting workers’ rights, especially as companies receive and benefit from federal funds related to the electric vehicle transition,” the letter first reported by Reuters said.

The letter raised concerns about reports that management of numerous automakers has acted illegally to block unionization efforts. It also cited National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) findings that Tesla employed “multiple illegal tactics aimed at stopping organizing efforts including online harassment, employee interrogations, and retaliatory firings.”

VW refuted claims of union-busting and intimidation by the German automaker. It said claims VW destroyed pro-union materials in a breakroom at the company’s Tennessee plant were untrue and that the room had simply been cleaned by maintenance staff.

“Labor representation is part of our company’s culture; half of our global supervisory board members are labor representatives,” VW said in a statement. “We respect our workers’ right to decide the question of union representation.”

In echoing the opinion of others automakers, Hyundai said it was up to its workers whether they join a union, but those workers benefit from dealing with the company directly.

“The UAW’s recent accusations regarding Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama are not accurate, and we remain in compliance with the rules of the National Labor Relations Board,” the South Korean automaker said in a statement. “Hyundai provides excellent wages and benefits.”

Toyota, Subaru and Rivian declined to comment. The other automakers did not respond to requests for comment.

In late November, the UAW said it was launching a first-of-its-kind push to publicly organize the entire nonunion auto sector in the U.S. after winning record new contracts with the Detroit Three automakers.

The Detroit-based UAW announced simultaneous campaigns by workers at 13 nonunion automakers to join the union. Those automakers employ nearly 150,000 workers at their U.S. assembly plants, about the same number as those employed by the Detroit Three companies that signed new labor agreements with the UAW.

“Every autoworker in this country deserves their fair share of the auto industry’s record profits,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in a statement. “We applaud these U.S. senators for standing with workers who are standing up for economic justice on the job. It’s time for the auto companies to stop breaking the law.”

The UAW’s deals with General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis included an immediate 11% pay hike and 25% increase in base wages through 2028, a reduction in time needed to reach top pay to three years from eight, and is boosting the pay of temporary workers by 150% and making them permanent.

Many non-union automakers have responded by hiking pay for U.S. factory workers.

The UAW has for decades unsuccessfully sought to organize auto factories operated by foreign automakers. Efforts to organize Nissan plants in Mississippi and Tennessee failed by wide margins, and two attempts to organize VW’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee, narrowly failed.

Last month, the UAW said 30% of workers at VW’s Tennessee plant had signed union authorization cards.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; additional reporting by Ben Klayman, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)