Tesla is happy to do things differently than other automakers, from the company-owned stores to the all-electric drivetrain. It also doesn't use union workers at its factory in Fremont, California (the former NUMMI plant, pictured). But now the United Auto Workers (UAW) is testing the waters for representation at the plant, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle.
UAW President Bob King has revealed that the UAW has created an organizing committee in Fremont. How this would change things at Tesla – and whether it would be a good or bad thing – is not really known, but it would certainly make the EV company more like the Big Three in this one aspect.
We heard rumblings of unions at Tesla in 2010, when Toyota and Tesla announced they were going to collaborate on developing EVs. At that time, the United Auto Workers said it wanted union workers back at the plant, especially some of the 4,500 who ended up unemployed after the General Motors/Toyota partnership that built cars at NUMMI was shut down. That didn't happen, but Tesla has called unionization a 'risk' to business in a financial report.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk at least has a plan for running his shop both with and without a union. As he told Wired in 2009, "Most of our experienced factory workers come from unionized environments, and we asked them what benefit did they see in unions. They said, 'Well, if their boss was an asshole, they had recourse.' I said, 'Let's make a rule: There will be no assholes.' I fired someone for being an asshole. And I only had to do that once, actually."
Tesla declined comment to AutoblogGreen about the new union rumblings, but when we spoke with Musk in 2012, he described the longer-than-average work hours:
Despite the long hours, it's interesting to note that there do not seem to be calls from within Tesla for unionization.
Right now we're working six days a week. Some people are working seven days a week – I do – but for a lot of people, working seven days a week is not sustainable. The factory is operational seven days a week but most people we only ask to work six days a week right now and, obviously, we want to get that to a more reasonable number. I think people can sustain a 50-hour work week. I think that's a good work week. If you're joining Tesla, you're joining a company to work hard. We're not trying to sell you a bill of goods. If you can go work for another company and then maybe you can work a 40-hour work week. But if you work for Tesla, the minimum is really a 50-hour week and there are times when it'll be 60- to 80-hour weeks.