Tesla ban on pro-union shirts violated workers’ rights, labor board rules

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An aerial view shows the Tesla Fremont Factory in Fremont, California on February 10, 2022.
Josh Edelson | AFP | Getty Images

Tesla violated workers’ rights when it told employees they couldn’t wear shirts with pro-union insignia at the factory, The National Labor Relations Board ruled in a decision out Monday.

The NLRB is now mandating that Elon Musk‘s electric vehicle maker “cease and desist from maintaining and enforcing the overly broad team-wear policy that prohibits production associates from wearing black union shirts.”

Tesla will also be required to notify current employees that its “team-wear policy” has been rescinded or revised, and provide a copy of any revised policy.

The decision contradicts a 2019 ruling over dress code policies at Walmart that allowed the retail titan to limit (but not ban) employees from wearing pro-union insignia at work.

Two members of the labor board dissented on the Tesla ruling, while three moved to overrule the prior Walmart decision.

The majority wrote, “when an employer interferes in any way with its employees’ right to display union insignia, the employer must prove special circumstances that justify its interference.” Tesla did not demonstrate special circumstances that justified its policy, the NLRB decided.

Tesla had previously argued before the NLRB that its dress code was meant to prevent workers’ clothing from “causing mutilations” to the cars or car seats they were building, and to help managers “easily determine that employees are in their assigned work areas,” of the company’s factory.

Former Tesla employees had testified before the NLRB that management at Tesla made them remove T-shirts with United Auto Workers union messages and logos on them, even though they posed no risk of damaging cars or car seats.

The UAW and Tesla did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Monday.

Previously, the NLRB ruled that Tesla CEO Elon Musk violated labor laws when he suggested in a tweet that Tesla workers would need to give up their stock options if they unionized. They mandated that he remove the offending tweet, but Musk and Tesla moved to appeal that decision.

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