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Court rules Elon Musk violated federal labor law with 2018 tweet

Elon Musk violated US labor laws in 2018 when Tesla factory workers would forgo stock options if they chose to unionize, according to a federal appeals court. Friday, the Fifth Court of Appeal, in a decision discovered by upheld a ruling by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that found Musk made illegal threats regarding employee compensation.

In May 2018, a Twitter user asked Musk about his stance on unions. “Nothing is stopping the Tesla team at our car factory from voting the union. Could do it tmrw if they wanted to,”[ads1]; he . “But why pay union dues and give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when the facility was UAW and everyone already gets health care.”

The tweet immediately drew the attention of labor activists, and in 2021 the NLRB, responding to a complaint by the United Auto Workers union, found that Musk had threatened employees. Tesla has claimed that the tweet was Musk’s way of pointing out that workers at other automakers do not receive stock options. NLRB Chair Wilma Liebman saw it differently. “The employee is going to hear it like, ‘If I vote to unionize, stock options will no longer be an option,'” she .

After reviewing the decision, the Fifth Circuit Court sided with the NLRB. “Because stock options are part of Tesla’s employee compensation, and nothing in the tweet suggested that Tesla would be forced to end stock options or that the UAW would be the reason for giving up stock options, substantial evidence supports the NLRB’s conclusion that the tweet amounts to an implied threat on Terminating Stock Options in Retaliation for Unionization,” the panel.

The court ordered Musk to delete the tweet. At the time of this writing, the message is still active. The Fifth Circuit Court also upheld an NLRB order that Tesla reinstate Richard Ortiz, a worker the automaker fired for organizing employees at its Fremont, California factory.

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