A group of workers at a Tesla factory in Buffalo began a campaign on Tuesday to form a union, saying they wanted better pay and benefits. If successful, the effort could establish the first union at the fast-growing auto and energy company, which has fiercely resisted efforts to organize its employees.
The factory in Buffalo makes solar panels and components for charging equipment, according to Tesla’s website, and also has about 800 workers who help develop driver-assistance software for cars. The software workers initiated the union drive, and went public Tuesday in an effort to win broader support at the site.
Tesla pays workers in Buffalo less than national averages and they receive little sick time, workers involved in the drive said. “We are only asking for a seat in the car that we helped build,” Keenan Lasch, a member of a group calling itself Tesla Workers United, said in a statement.
The employees are working with Workers United, which is affiliated with the Service Employees International Union. The union campaign was first reported by Bloomberg News.
Attempts to organize Tesla workers have so far failed. Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, has been openly hostile to unions. In 2021, the National Labor Relations Board found that Tesla had illegally fired a worker involved in organizing at the company’s car factory in Fremont, Calif., and that Mr. Musk had illegally threatened workers with the loss of stock options if they unionized.
- Apple: After a yearlong investigation, the National Labor Relations Board determined that the tech giant’s strictly enforced culture of secrecy interferes with employees’ right to organize.
- N.Y.C. Nurses’ Strike: Nurses at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx and Mount Sinai in Manhattan ended a three-day strike after the hospitals agreed to add staffing and improve working conditions.
- Amazon: A federal labor official rejected the company’s attempt to overturn a union victory at a warehouse on Staten Island, removing a key obstacle to contract negotiations between the union and the company.
- Electric Vehicles: In a milestone for the sector, employees at an E.V. battery plant in Ohio voted to join the United Automobile Workers union, citing pay and safety issues as key reasons.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
The company’s nonunion workplaces potentially give the company a cost advantage over established automakers like General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis, whose employees are represented by the United Auto Workers in the United States. Unionized workers generally receive better pay and benefits than workers who are not represented.
The U.A.W. has so far been frustrated in its attempts to expand beyond the Michigan automakers. In recent years, attempts to organize workers for foreign automakers with factories in the South, including Nissan, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota, have failed.
Tesla is the latest big technology company to be the target of labor organizers. Amazon workers at a warehouse on Staten Island voted in April to unionize, but workers at an Amazon facility in Albany voted in October against union representation.
The drive in Buffalo has the support of Jaz Brisack, who gained national prominence for her efforts to organize Starbucks workers in Buffalo.
“So incredibly glad to be working with the Tesla workers on their campaign!” Ms. Brisack said on Twitter Tuesday.
The Autopilot workers in Buffalo analyze data collected by cars to improve the software, which has been blamed for numerous crashes, some fatal. Federal officials have asked Tesla for documents related to the self-driving software, the company disclosed last month.
Tesla has openings for jobs in Buffalo that entail labeling images and videos collected from cars. No experience in artificial intelligence or data labeling is required, according to two job postings on its website.
Workers said they were committed to Tesla’s mission but wanted a greater voice. In an open letter to fellow workers, they said they wanted to form a union that would “be as innovative as the company we work for and to build an even more collaborative environment that will strengthen the company.”
“As much as I love my job, it can feel very disheartening living paycheck to paycheck when I work for one of the most successful companies in the world,” Zahra Lahrache, who has worked at Tesla in Buffalo for five months, said in a statement issued by the workers, “and that is why I am exercising my right to unionize.”