Tesla Plant on South Park Avenue in South Buffalo. August 7, 2018 (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

REPORT: Tesla accused of engaging in 'coercive actions' at Buffalo plant

Complaint filed with National Labor Relations Board

June 20, 2019 - 1:01 pm

Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - In a filing with the National Labor Relations Board Wednesday, it is alleged Tesla engaged in what are described as 'coercive actions' including surveillance and illegal firing at the Buffalo mega plant.

Bloomberg Law reports  the United Steel Workers filed the claim and comes at a time when there is word the USW and electrical workers are working to organize labor at the facility. Art Wheaton of The Wheaton Institute at Cornell says he's not surprised. "There have been complaints of unfair labor practices in their other facility in Fremont, California, so I'm not surprised they've resisted efforts to organize at that (Buffalo) plant," says Wheaton. A judge in California has found Tesla guilty in one case of unfair labor practices in a matter of employees wearing union stickers. Other charges are still being looked at. 

Wheaton believes the layoffs are not necessarily the result of unionizing efforts. "The demand for the product in the plant has been problematic. They've reduced a lot of their storefronts and where they're offering it," notes Wheaton. Wheaton says in general a company commits an unfair labor practice by monitoring cell phone activity and emails as well as other types of communication, which may be violation if the surveillance was for organizing activity. "By law, the company's not allowed to interfere with that, so if they've been monitoring illegally, that could be seen as an effort to stop organzing efforts, and that's an unfair labor practice," says Wheaton.

Wheaton says if the NLRB rules in favor of the unions, the reward won't be grand. "The penalties aren't severe. They usually issue a cease and desist, saying don't do this anymore. There's no large dollar value associated with anti-union practices," notes Wheaton.

The sprawling facility at Riverbend opened in 2017 and employs about 800. The facility produces Tesla’s solar panels, solar roof, and other electrical components.

A Tesla spokesperson says, “Tesla greatly values our employees at our Buffalo facility, and respects their right to organize. The ULP allegation is without merit and we will be responding as part of the NLRB process.”


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