A 2018 Twitter post by Tesla CEO Elon Musk unlawfully threatened Tesla employees with the loss of stock options if they decided to be represented by a union, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.
The ruling by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a March 2021 order by the National Labor Relations Board, which ordered that the tweet be deleted. The case arose from United Auto Workers' organizing efforts at a Tesla facility in Fremont, California.
Also upheld was the board's order that Tesla reinstate and provide back pay to an employee who was fired for union-organizing activity.
Musk tweeted on May 20, 2018: “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tomorrow if they wanted. But why pay union dues and give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare.”
The ruling said that "because stock options are part of Tesla’s employees’ compensation, and nothing in the tweet suggested that Tesla would be forced to end stock options or that the UAW would be the cause of giving up stock options, substantial evidence supports the NLRB’s conclusion that the tweet is as an implied threat to end stock options as retaliation for unionization.”
The UAW, and Richard Ortiz, the worker whose reinstatement was ordered, praised the ruling. "I look forward to returning to work at Tesla and working with my co-workers to finish the job of forming a Union,” Ortiz said in a UAW email.
“This a great victory for workers who have the courage to stand up and organize in a system that is currently stacked heavily in favour of employers like Tesla who have no qualms about violating the law,” said UAW Region 6 Director Mike Miller.
Tesla had not responded to emailed requests for comment Friday afternoon.