The US National Labor Relations Board has ordered Tesla chief executive Elon Musk to delete an anti-union tweet he wrote and reinstate a fired employee. The independent federal agency, which protects the rights of private sector employees, said Tesla violated labor laws when it fired Richard Ortiz, and that Musk’s post on social media could be perceived as threatening to labor organisers within Tesla. The company was also ordered to compensate the employee for loss of earnings and benefits as well as adverse tax consequences.
In 2017 Richard Ortiz took part in the campaign "Fair Future at Tesla" and distributed leaflets in the parking lot of Tesla’s plant in Fremont, California, in an attempt to organise fellow employees. He was then fired. Tesla maintained that Ortiz was let go because he posted screenshots of profiles of his fellow employees on an internal platform on Facebook. The judge ruled that his dismissal was a response to his participation in union organising.
A year later in a conversation on Twitter, Musk voiced his opposition to labor unions.
Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 21, 2018
US laws allow companies to make negative forecasts on workers’ decision to unionise, but the judge ruled that Musk’s remark was an illegal attempt to coerce employees by making a threatening comment - "why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?".
Tesla has denied wrongdoing and said Musk’s tweet was protected by the First Amendment of US Constitution, which among other things guarantees freedom of speech.