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Red Tesla Model 3 in showroom Copyright Scott Olson, Getty Images

Tesla Workers Start a Drive to Unionize Solar-Panel Factory

The campaign would involve about 300 production and maintenance employees at the western New York facility.

Employees at Tesla Inc.’s solar-panel factory in Buffalo, New York, are kicking off a union-organizing campaign, a fresh challenge to the automaker that has so far successfully resisted similar efforts by the United Auto Workers at its sole car plant in Fremont, California.

The campaign would involve about 300 production and maintenance employees at the western New York facility and is a partnership between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the United Steelworkers, who began hearing from workers earlier this year, according to local USW organizing coordinator Dave Wasiura. “They want a fair wage that’s reflective of the state investment that the company received,” he said in an interview.

Wasiura said the unions have created a committee of pro-union employees in the plant and are working toward securing support from a strong enough majority of the workforce to file for a unionization election with the National Labor Relations Board.

A Tesla spokesperson said that Tesla pays workers an average of $16.20 an hour and gives them benefits and an equity stake in the company. Tesla also pays performance bonuses and said that the hourly wages are better than the average production worker makes in the Buffalo region.

"We offer wages and benefits that exceed those of other comparable manufacturing jobs in the region, and we recently increased our base pay even further," Tesla said in a statement. "In addition, unlike other manufacturers, every single employee is an owner of Tesla, as everyone receives stock upon hire and for good performance, which results in significantly more compensation beyond our already high wages."

Workers want better pay, according to the union. “I wanted to work at Tesla because I wanted a job in green energy, a job that can change the world,” said Rob Walsh, another organizing committee member. “But I also want a fair wage for my work.”

By Josh Eidelson

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