DETROIT (AP) — The National Labor Relations Board has reversed a Trump-era decision by finding that Tesla cannot stop factory workers from wearing union-insigned clothing while on the job.
The board, in a 3-2 decision released Monday, overturned a 2019 NLRB decision involving Walmart and union clothing. The board wrote that a 1945 Supreme Court decision set the precedent for allowing the clothing.
It ordered Tesla to stop enforcing a “too broad” uniform policy that effectively stops production workers at its Fremont, California plant from wearing black shirts bearing the United Auto Workers Union logo.
The board said by ruling against Tesla, it confirms a long-standing precedent that it is “presumably illegal” for employers to restrict union clothing without special circumstances justifying the ban.
The majority of its board of directors has determined that Tesla has not identified any special circumstances that would allow the UAW apparel to be banned.
“The board reaffirms that any attempt to restrict the wearing of union clothes or insignia is presumably illegal and – in line with Supreme Court precedent – puts a heavier burden on an employer to justify attempts to restrict this important right,” said chairman Lauren McFerran in a statement. .
Messages were left on Monday seeking comment from Tesla and the auto workers’ union.
It is the second loss at the NLRB for Tesla and CEO Elon Musk.
Tesla is appealing a ruling last year that found the company and Musk involved in unfair labor practices in 2018.
A year ago, the Labor Relations Board found that in a May 20, 2018 tweet, Musk unlawfully threatened employees with the loss of stock options if they chose to be represented by the UAW.
Board members instructed Tesla to have Musk delete the tweet and stop threatening employees with loss of benefits for supporting a labor organization.
Tesla also had to post a message about unfair labor practices at the Fremont factory with 10,000 employees, and post a message about the tweet at all its facilities nationwide.
In April 2021, Tesla appealed the NLRB ruling to a federal appeals court in New Orleans.
Among other things, the lengthy NLRB ruling of March 2021 also ordered Tesla to reinstate and reimburse an employee fired for union activities.
Musk tweeted in May 2018: “Nothing is stopping the Tesla team at our car factory from voting a union. Could do this tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues and give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2x better than when the factory was UAW and everyone is already getting healthcare.”
In Monday’s ruling, the NLRB wrote that Tesla had policies requiring “team clothing” for production workers, including black cotton shirts with the Tesla logo and black cotton pants with no buttons, rivets or visible zippers. Tesla provided clothing for the workers.
During a UAW organizing campaign in the spring of 2017, some production workers began wearing black cotton shirts with a small union logo on the front and a larger one on the back. Prior to August 2017, employees often wore shirts that were not black or had logos unrelated to Tesla. But at that point, the company began to strictly enforce its team clothing policy, the NLRB wrote.
On August 10, 2017, supervisors threatened to send home two workers for wearing union clothes, the board wrote. Tesla did allow workers to wear union stickers on the required clothing.