California lawmakers sent a letter to Tesla last month asking the company to loosen its employee confidentiality agreement. Signed by Democratic Assembly members Tony Thurmond, Bill Quirk, Kansen Chu, Rob Bonta and Ash Kalra, the letter expressed concerns that Tesla’s policy might violate state and federal labor laws by preventing workers from communicating about wages and working conditions.
“We are concerned that over-broad language in the confidentiality agreement violates these provisions and has resulted in a chilling effect on workers' ability to engage in protected activity," the assembly members’ letter to Tesla, dated Jan. 10, reads. "As we are confident that this was not your intention, we respectfully request that Tesla revise this policy to protect employee rights and comply with the law, and immediately communicate this clarification to all workers."
The letter comes amid ongoing unionization talk by employees at Tesla’s Fremont auto factory. Employees have been communicating with United Auto Workers union officials for nearly a year, according to reports. United Auto Workers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In a Jan. 17 response to the assembly members, Tesla’s general counsel said the company reminded employees about their confidentiality agreement after "a rash of unauthorized leaks to the press and social media." Tesla included an “acknowledgement” in the letter to employees that “unless otherwise allowed by law,” workers would be held to the confidentiality contract. Todd Maron, Tesla’s general counsel, said the National Labor Relations Act would fall into that category.
“Rather than overwhelm them with a complicated legal document that is incomprehensible to lay people, we set out to use plain language, writing in a brief, plain-spoken manner that is respectful of the legal rights of our employees and fully compliant with state and federal laws," Maron wrote. "Note that the Acknowledgement is clearly not intended to prohibit employees from discussing concerns about wages or working conditions whether amongst themselves or with third parties.”
Here’s what the acknowledgement said, according to Maron’s letter: "Unless otherwise allowed by law, ... you must not, for example, discuss confidential information with anyone outside of Tesla, take or post photos or make video or audio recordings inside Tesla facilities, forward work emails outside of Tesla or to a personal email account, or write about your work in any social media, blog, or book.”
On Thursday, a man claiming to work in Tesla’s Fremont factory — where the company is gearing up to begin production on the $35,000 Model 3 — published a Medium post called “Time for Tesla to Listen.” In it, he wrote that he and other workers had begun conversations with United Auto Workers about unionizing, “but at the same time, management actions are feeding workers’ fears about speaking out.”
“I often feel like I am working for a company of the future under working conditions of the past,” Jose Moran wrote. “Most of my 5,000-plus coworkers work well over 40 hours a week, including excessive mandatory overtime. ... We need better organization in the plant, and I, along with many of my coworkers, believe we can achieve that by coming together and forming a union.”
In a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, Tesla said, “As California’s largest manufacturing employer and a company that has created thousands of quality jobs here in the Bay Area, this is not the first time we have been the target of a professional union organizing effort such as this. The safety and job satisfaction of our employees here at Tesla has always been extremely important to us. We have a long history of engaging directly with our employees on the issues that matter to them, and we will continue to do so because it’s the right thing to do.”
Assemblymember Kansen Chu was one of the five signatories of the letter to Tesla. In a statement to BuzzFeed News, he wrote, “While I greatly respect and admire Tesla’s achievements in creating eco-friendly automobiles and green jobs right here in California, I want to ensure worker rights are protected and that they are provided a safe working environment."
Priya Anand is a tech and transportation reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Priya Anand at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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