Promoting collective action is the hallmark of a labor union and the current Swedish strike that Tesla is facing is an obvious testament to that fact. The strike against Tesla began on 27 October when a company subsidiary refused to sign a collective agreement with IF Metall—a labor union that represents the Tesla mechanics in the region. Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO of Tesla, has long stood firmly opposed to labor unions, stating that they created negativity within a company, despite unions being the only ones to consider worker interests instead of these wealthy companies. With the company making no move to accommodate the interest of its Swedish workers, the Tesla backlash has extended beyond its mechanics to other “sympathy strikers” who refuse to support Tesla services in the region.
Tesla Swedish Strike a Result of a Refusal to Accommodate Collective Agreement Terms
The strike against Tesla began in October when a subsidiary of the company refused to agree to terms set by the union over collective agreement on pay and other employment terms that the union wanted to negotiate. The demands made by the workers were in line with the basic expectations of the region—the right to have collective bargaining terms so that pay and other details could be discussed and set with the assistance of the workers as a whole, rather than having each worker battle individually for reasonable pay. The Swedish strike against Tesla has largely reasonable demands that are standard for the Nordic region but Tesla’s refusal to concede sent its mechanics on strike. Around 120 mechanics who worked for Tesla went on strike but they weren’t the only ones to do so.
Danish union 3F, which represents various dockworkers and lorry drivers, also joined the strike against Tesla as a show of solidarity with the Swedish workers. The chairman of 3F Transport, Jan Villadsen, openly stated that it was incorrect for a company to come to the area and demand to do things their own way, disregarding the systems that have been set in place. The support arose amidst rumors that the automobile company was bringing Tesla cars from Denmark into Sweden to bypass the protesting workers.
The “sympathy strikes” in support of the anti-Tesla Swedish strike have gone beyond the company’s mechanics and have extended to other service providers who interact with Tesla’s cars according to CNN. Swedish dock workers who aid with the delivery at ports, postal workers delivering license plates, and electricians at charging stations have all refused to cooperate with Tesla’s services. The Danish union 3F is reportedly offering its striking mechanics up to 130 percent of their wages plus vacation funds and pension contributions, incentivising their workers to stay away from the company. The backlash Tesla is facing is serious and isn’t going to die down any time soon.
Tesla Backlash Not Enough to Push the Company to Cooperating Just Yet
The Tesla vs Swedish worker strike is ramping up in intensity but the company does not appear to be taking their demands seriously, going the other way to try and challenge them even further. The company has reportedly advertised for an opening in Nordic and government affairs in order to hire someone with experience bringing in regulatory changes in the region to help support Tesla’s mission there. The move greatly downplays the seriousness of the strike against Tesla and how integral the collective bargaining practices are for the workers in the region.
It is likely that Tesla’s adamant refusal to cooperate arises not just from the CEO’s dislike for unions but due to the fact that cooperating with the Swedish and Danish unions will mean that cooperation will be expected in Germany and the U.S. as well. EV plants in the U.S. are not currently unionized despite the majority of automotive companies allowing labor unions to organize their workforce. Despite the popular belief that U.S. workers are the most easily unionized, the U.S. does not offer up as much support as their Nordic counterparts when it comes to the formation of labor groups, which is one of the reasons Tesla has been able to counter previous unionization attempts among its workers.
Tesla has previously come under fire for getting rid of employees caught up in unionization efforts at a Buffalo facility and has been accused of interrogating and disciplining employees for the same but there haven’t been any serious repercussions to dissuade them from repeating the behavior. Another tactic employed by the company is the stock options that it offers to workers. The four-year vesting period for the stocks to turn productive requires them to stay at the company for that period, dissuading them from taking any action that might risk their jobs at Tesla.
By agreeing to the demands of the Swedish strikers, Tesla might open up the door for more workers to take a stand globally. Germany may not be as supportive of sympathy strikes as the Nordics but reports indicate that unions like IG Metall are growing in number with more workers signing up after grueling work conditions in the production plants remain unchanged. Whether this will amount to anything serious is unclear but the Tesla-Swedish strike is bound to have long-lasting effects in the region at least. CNN speculates that Tesla may choose to hire a contractor who enters the labor agreement with workers instead of agreeing to any terms itself, but there are no indications that the company has resorted to this tactic yet.