Tesla HR Chief Suggested Promoting UAW Advocates to Safety Jobs

(Bloomberg) -- Tesla Inc.’s human resources boss emailed with Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk about offering employees promotions that could prevent them from continuing their advocacy for unionization.

“I saw it as positive they get involved in something they were criticizing,” Gaby Toledano, who joined Tesla as “chief people officer” in May 2017, testified Tuesday in a National Labor Relations Board hearing in Oakland when she was presented with the emails. Toledano recently resigned from the company while on a leave of absence.

A regional director of the labor board has alleged in a complaint that Tesla management violated federal laws by restricting employees from organizing activities, maintaining a strict confidentiality policy that infringed on workers’ rights, trying to stop employees from discussing safety issues and retaliating against pro-union workers. Tesla has stated that the NLRB allegations are all false.

Toledano acknowledged having suggested, in emails with Musk, having employee Jose Moran and another union supporter become full-time safety staff rather than “work to pull in the UAW.” Toledano wrote, “I am confirming now with Legal that if they join the Safety team then they would then be considered part of management and not eligible to advocate for a union should they accept those roles.”

In the emails, which were uncovered as part of the labor board’s investigation, Musk wrote “Exactly” in response to an email from Toledano in which she said that making Moran and a comrade full-time safety staff would be an “Amazing way to turn adversaries into those responsible for the problem.”

The email chain also includes an earlier one in which Musk told Tesla’s former health and safety head, Seth Woody, that he would ask Moran and another union supporter “to join your team full time, so long as they do so in good faith and are truly as committed as they claim to safety.”

Get Involved

Tesla encourages anyone who has ideas on how to improve safety to get involved with the safety team, a spokeswoman said Tuesday in an email. Moran and his colleague expressed interest in helping to improve safety at Tesla, so the company explored ways to provide them with roles that would allow them to most effectively do that, she said.

Toledano testified Tuesday that she didn’t know of any promotions of union advocates to salaried safety positions taking place. She said that responding to unionization efforts at Tesla never came up when she was being interviewed prior to accepting the job.

Moran was -- and remains -- the most visible face of the UAW’s campaign at Tesla, and prior to the meeting with Musk had distributed union leaflets and a petition about safety. He also wrote an essay to announce the organizing effort that was published on Medium.com.

Toledano denied allegations made on Monday by Moran that in a June 2017 meeting Toledano asked him and a co-worker why employees would want to pay union dues. Toledano also denied Moran’s claim that in the same meeting Musk told the employees that UAW representation would leave him voiceless, and that the automaker nonetheless would let workers have a union if their safety concerns weren’t addressed. Toledano said that Musk had sought that June meeting in order to hear about Moran’s safety concerns, and that she didn’t recall anyone even bringing up unionization during the conversation.

In Tuesday’s testimony, she said that while working at Tesla she didn’t keep close tabs on mentions of the company in the media, but would sometimes track Twitter, “because I wanted to make sure our CEO was not tweeting dumb stuff.”

The NLRB’s regional director has alleged that a tweet from Musk -- asking “why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?” -- violates the federal labor law that bans threatening employees to deter unionization. Tesla has said that the tweet was “simply a recognition of the fact” that UAW-represented automakers lack stock options for production employees, and that UAW organizers have dismissed their value.

Tesla’s shares were little changed at $300.89 at 9:07 a.m. before regular trading. They have declined 3.3 percent so far this year.

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