USW and IBEW hold union organizing drive at Tesla solar panel factory

The United Steelworkers (USW) and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) announced that workers at Tesla’s solar panel factory in Buffalo, New York, will hold a union organizing drive.

In 2013, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the solar manufacturing investment as part of his “Buffalo Billion” initiative at the Riverbend site. The announcement promised high-tech manufacturing jobs that would help change the economic landscape of Buffalo.

Recently, workers at the Tesla facility reached out to the USW about organizing. The USW and IBEW agreed to work with both production and maintenance employees in a joint organizing drive.

There are currently about 400 workers at Tesla’s Buffalo plant on the site of the former Republic Steel mill, where workers were represented by the USW.

“The only way we can ensure that we have a voice in the company and have equal rights across the board is with a union contract,” said Aaron Nicpon, a member of the internal organizing committee. “We want to have a voice at Tesla so that we can have a better future for ourselves and our families.”

“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.”

USW District 4 Director, John Shinn said that the workers’ concerns can be addressed while still maintaining the long-term viability of the facility.

“We’re committed to the continuing success of this facility,” said Shinn, “and to making sure that Tesla’s highly skilled work force has good, family-sustaining jobs. This historic USW site will be the model of how emerging clean technology manufacturing can provide such an opportunity for its workers.”

For the USW and IBEW, this campaign goes beyond the traditional organizing model. “We have partnered with the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York and the Coalition of Economic Justice, so together we can build a brighter Buffalo,” said Shinn.

“Western New York has a long tradition of unionization, and we want to see that tradition carry forward into the green jobs that are our future.”

The USW represents 850,000 workers in North America employed in many industries that include metals, rubber, chemicals, paper, oil refining and the service and public sectors.

A Tesla spokesperson sent a statement to Solar Power World in response to the union organizing drive:

“Tesla greatly values its employees and the direct relationship it has with them at our Buffalo facility. 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. 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.

Other factories are shutting down in the US and we still have a long way to go to make Gigafactory 2 financially sustainable. Nevertheless, we continue to do everything we can to keep exceeding our commitments to jobs and business in Buffalo.

Today’s demonstration consisted almost entirely of groups outside of Tesla, not Tesla employees. And ultimately, it’s up to our employees to decide if they want to be unionized. While we will never please everyone outside of Tesla, we have an unwavering commitment to providing a great workplace for our employees. That’s what matters.”

News item from United Steelworkers (USW). Updated with Tesla’s statement on Dec. 14.

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