Elon Musk tweet broke federal labor law

High profile billionaire in the news again – for all the wrong reasons

Elon Musk tweet broke federal labor law

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has been found to have violated federal labor law by the New Orleans-based 5th US circuit court of appeals, after tweeting that employees would lose stock options if they joined a union.

The judgment upheld the US National Labor Relations Board, which ruled that the tweet amounted to an unlawful threat that could discourage unionizing and ordered Musk to delete it.

The tweet was sent in 2018 during an organizing campaign at Tesla’s Fremont, California, plant by the United Auto Workers (UAW) union.

Musk tweeted: “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union … but why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?”

Tesla had argued that the tweet about unionizing was not a threat, but a reflection of the fact that union workers at other auto companies did not receive stock options. However, a three-judge panel disagreed. “Substantial evidence supports the NLRB’s conclusion that the tweet is an implied threat to end stock options as retaliation for unionization,” the panel said in its decision.

Data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics earlier this year shows that the union membership rate, which represents the percentage of wage and salary workers who belong to unions in the United States, reached an all-time low last year. The rate declined from 10.3% in 2021 to 10.1% in 2022.

Despite the decrease in the union membership rate, the data revealed that the number of wage and salary workers who are union members increased by 273,000, or 1.9%, from 2021 to 14.3 million in 2022. However, the majority of the 5.3 million increase in the total number of wage and salary workers were non-union workers.

Musk is no stranger to bad headlines over controversial staff-related tweets or actions. The high profile businessman who has been called ‘a distraction and embarrassment’ by staff bought twitter recently for $44 billion after trying to back out of the purchase.

The Tesla boss is one of a number of CEOs who is pushing for staff to return to the office.

Unionization in the US

Although some headlines late last year trumpeted a ‘Union Boom’, it looks like Bureau of Labor Statistics figures tell a different story.

  • Union membership in 2022 was 10.1% of the working population, down from 10.3% in 2021.
  • 14.3 million wage and salary workers belonged to unions in 2022, a 1.9% increase from 2021.
  • The union membership rate of public-sector workers (33.1%) was more than five times higher than private-sector workers (6.0%).
  • Highest unionization rates were in protective service occupations (34.6%) and education, training, and library occupations (33.7%).
  • Men had a higher union membership rate (10.5%) than women (9.6%).
  • Black workers were more likely to be union members than White, Asian, or Hispanic workers.
  • Nonunion workers' median weekly earnings were 85% of union members' earnings ($1,029 vs. $1,216).
  • Hawaii and New York had the highest union membership rates (21.9% and 20.7%, respectively); South Carolina and North Carolina had the lowest (1.7% and 2.8%, respectively).
  • 7.1 million public sector employees and 7.2 million private sector employees belonged to unions in 2022.
  • Industries with high unionization rates included utilities (19.6%), motion pictures and sound recording industries (17.3%), and transportation and warehousing (14.5%).
  • Occupations with high unionization rates included protective service occupations (34.6%) and education, training, and library occupations (33.7%).
  • Union membership rate for women decreased to 9.6% while the rate for men remained at 10.5% in 2022.
  • Black workers had a higher union membership rate (11.6%) than White (10.0%), Asian (8.3%), and Hispanic (8.8%) workers.
  • Workers ages 45 to 54 had the highest union membership rate (12.6%), while workers ages 16 to 24 had the lowest (4.4%).
  • Full-time workers had a union membership rate of 11.0%, double that of part-time workers (5.5%).

What is the NRLB?

  • The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is a federal agency established in 1935 to protect employees' rights.
  • The NLRB was established to ensure employees have the right to organize, communicate to improve working conditions, choose whether to have a collective bargaining representative, and refrain from doing so if they choose.
  • The agency takes action to prevent and rectify unfair labor practices committed by private sector employers and unions.
  • The NLRB conducts secret-ballot elections regarding union representation.
  • The agency is governed by a five-person Board and a General Counsel.
  • Board Members and the General Counsel are appointed by the President with Senate approval.

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