Elon Musk illegally ‘threatened’ to retaliate against workers and Tesla repeatedly violated labor laws, NLRB says

Elon Musk

The National Labor Relations Board ruled Thursday that Tesla repeatedly violated labor laws by trying to prevent workers from organizing and discussing working conditions.

In a 3-2 vote, the NLRB found Tesla broke the law by “coercively interrogating” workers engaged in legally protected organizing activities, using gag orders to prevent them from talking to the media, and firing union activist Richard Ortiz in 2017 (the board ordered Tesla to rehire the worker).

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

The NLRB also ruled CEO Elon Musk “unlawfully threatened” workers in a 2018 tweet and must remove it.

“Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare,” Musk said in the tweet.

US labor law allows companies to claim bad things could happen if workers unionize, but it doesn’t allow them to punish workers if they do unionize. So, the NLRB said, Musk violated those laws by saying employees “would lose their stock options if they chose the Union as their representative.”

Musk’s tweet came in response to increased efforts by workers at Tesla’s Fremont, California, plant to form a union with the United Auto Workers (the “UAW” Musk referenced in the tweet) amid what they said were grueling working conditions.

UAW and Tesla employees had filed labor violation charges against Tesla in 2017, accusing it of trying to silence pro-union workers, leading the NLRB to open a formal complaint against the company.

Musk has clashed with workers at the Fremont factory over working conditions since then, as well.

Last May, after public health orders required nonessential businesses to shut down in Alameda County, Musk reopened the factory in defiance of those orders. The county eventually reversed course and let the factory restart operations after Tesla sued.

But a month later, several Tesla employees tested positive for COVID-19 despite claims from the company’s safety chief that there had been “zero COVID-19 workplace transmissions” since the plant reopened, and public health data has since identified more than 450 cases tied to the factory, which has around 10,000 workers.

Tesla employees said the company fired some workers who stayed home out of fear of catching the virus, despite telling workers they could do so.

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Amazon will pay contract delivery drivers $8.2 million to settle a wage-theft lawsuit

Amazon delivery driver packages
  • Amazon has agreed to pay $8.2 million to settle a wage-theft lawsuit, Vice News reported Friday.
  • Contract delivery drivers alleged Amazon was to blame for drivers not receiving legally required breaks and overtime.
  • Amazon has faced similar legal challenges in California and other states.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon agreed last month to pay some of its contract delivery drivers in Washington state $8.2 million to settle a class-action wage-theft lawsuit, reported earlier on Friday by Vice News and confirmed by Insider.

The lawsuit, originally filed by two Amazon delivery drivers in 2017, had alleged Amazon was partly to blame for illegally failing to pay drivers the minimum wage and denying them compensation for overtime and rest breaks.

The drivers, Gus Ortiz and Mark Fredley, worked for Amazon delivery service partner Jungle Trux – one of a sprawling network of contractors Amazon uses in part to reduce its legal liability and labor costs.

Ortiz and Fredley alleged Amazon imposed delivery quotas of 150 to 200 packages per day, forcing drivers to skip legally mandated rest breaks and work past their 10-hour shifts to complete the routes, and that Jungle Trux failed to pay them for those extra hours.

The settlement, first reported on Friday, covers drivers who worked for eight Amazon delivery service partners (DSPs) in Washington state between December 2014 and July 2020: Dash Delivery, Delivery Force, A‐1 Express Delivery Service (doing business as 1‐800 Courier), Progistics Distribution, Revelation Delivery, Genesis Delivery, and Transportation Brokerage Specialists.

“Amazon does not tolerate violations of labor laws. Where we find repeated violations, or an inability to correct labor violations, we terminate contracts with DSP program participants,” Amazon spokesperson Leah Seay told Insider in a statement.

But the company has faced a number of legal challenges from drivers employed by its DSP network.

California regulators fined Amazon $6.4 million for wage-theft violations earlier this month concerning former Amazon contractor Green Messengers. Amazon told Insider it was “not aware of the investigation” and is appealing the fine.

Amazon is also facing class-action lawsuits over wage-theft allegations in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Texas, and Washington state, according to Vice’s analysis of court records.

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After Elon Musk opened Tesla’s Bay Area factory against local rules, around 450 workers got COVID-19

tesla fremont factory plant workers FREMONT, CA - JULY 26: Damien Boozer and Paul Jacob work on the general assembly of the Tesla Model 3 at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, on Thursday, July 26, 2018. (Photo by Mason Trinca for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Tesla has attempted to reopen its Fremont factory multiple times despite local lockdown orders.

  • Elon Musk reopened Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory in May in defiance of public health orders.
  • From May to December, it recorded around 450 COVID-19 cases, The Washington Post reported Friday.
  • Alameda County, where the factory is located, previously refused to release the data.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Around 450 of the roughly 10,000 workers at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory tested positive for COVID-19 from May to December, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Tesla and Alameda County Public Health Department did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Last May, after public health orders required non-essential businesses to shut down in Alameda County, Elon Musk reopened the factory in defiance of those orders. The county eventually reversed course and let the factory restart operations after Tesla sued.

But a month later, several Tesla employees tested positive for COVID-19 despite claims from the company’s safety chief that there had been “zero COVID-19 workplace transmissions” since the plant reopened.

That outbreak appears to be much larger than previously known, according to The Post, which reported that Alameda County data obtained by legal transparency advocate PlainSite showed cases at Tesla’s factory rising to as high as 125 active cases in December.

In exchange for being allowed to reopen, Tesla agreed to share COVID-19 case data with the county. The county argued for almost a year that it couldn’t release the data publicly because of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects the privacy of Americans’ health information.

Plainsite was able to obtain the data following a court ruling earlier this year, according to The Post.

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Amazon and delivery contractor fined $6.4 million by California regulators for stealing wages from drivers

Amazon delivery driver with mask, France
  • California fined Amazon and a delivery contractor $6.4 million for wage theft violations on Monday.
  • In a press release, the state’s labor commissioner said more than 700 drivers were owed money.
  • The drivers were employed by the contractor, but California law makes both companies liable.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

California’s labor commissioner fined Amazon and Green Messengers, a contractor used by Amazon to deliver packages, $6.4 million for stealing wages from 718 delivery drivers, the regulator announced in a press release Monday.

Its investigation found that the drivers, who were employed by Green Messengers to work 10-hour shifts, often had to work more than 11 hours and skip their meal and rest breaks in order to complete their Amazon delivery routes due to the high volume of packages.

But the investigation also found that, between April 2018 and January 2020, Green Messengers failed to pay them correctly for that extra work, which “resulted in frequent minimum wage, overtime, meal break, rest period and split-shift violations,” the release said.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on this story. As of Monday evening, Green Messengers’ website had been taken offline and a phone number listed for the business had been disconnected. According to the release, both companies have appealed the fines.

Read more: Amazon spent $44 billion striving for 1-day shipping in 2020, and its logistics empire is nowhere near done

While Amazon owns a massive fleet of delivery vehicles, it relies on a complex network of regional contractors like Green Messengers to employ many of the drivers who operate those vehicles.

The arrangement typically allows Amazon to avoid certain labor costs and legal liabilities that come with hiring employees directly, but a California law that went into effect in 2015 prevents companies like Amazon from shifting blame to contractors by allowing them to still be held liable for labor violations.

“Contracting out services does not release employers from their duty to ensure workers are being legally compensated,” California labor commissioner Lilia García-Brower said in the release. “In this case, both Green Messengers and Amazon.com Services are responsible for the wage theft that these workers suffered.”

The fines included more than $5.3 million in damages, wages, interest, and other penalties owed to the drivers, plus roughly $1.1 million in civil penalties owed to the state, according to the release.

Amazon has come under fire before for the working conditions it imposes on delivery drivers, both directly and indirectly through its delivery service partners, which investigations from multiple outlets including Insider and BuzzFeed News have found contributed to increased injury rates.

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Apple knew a supplier was using child labor but took 3 years to fully cut ties, despite the company’s promises to hold itself to the ‘highest standards,’ report says

Apple CEO Tim Cook in China, March 2019
  • Apple discovered that Suyin Electronics, one of its Chinese-based suppliers, relied on child labor on multiple occasions, but still took three years to fully cut ties, The Information reported on Thursday.
  • Ten former members of Apple’s supplier responsibility team told The Information the company has refused or has been slow to stop doing business with suppliers that repeatedly violate its labor policies when doing so would hurt its profits. 
  • Apple has faced intense criticism recently amid reports that it relies on forced Uyghur labor and protests over poor working conditions and wage theft by workers that make its products.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Apple is back under the spotlight over labor conditions in its supply chain following an explosive report from The Information on Thursday that revealed new details about the company’s reluctance to cut ties with suppliers who violate its ethics policies.

According to the report, Apple learned in 2013 that Suyin Electronics, a China-based company that (at the time) made parts for its MacBooks, was employing underage workers, and despite telling Suyin to address the issue or risk losing business, Apple discovered additional workers as young as 14 years old during an audit just three months later.

But rather than immediately cutting ties with Suyin for violating its supply chain ethics policies – which prohibit child labor and which Apple claims are the “highest standards” – Apple continued to rely on the company for more than three years, according to The Information.

Apple did not respond to a request for comment on this story. Suyin could not be reached for comment.

Ten former members of Apple’s supplier responsibility team told The Information that Suyin wasn’t an isolated incident, and that Apple had refused or was slow to stop doing business with suppliers that had repeatedly violated labor laws or failed to improve workplace safety when it would have cut into its profits.

Apple similarly refused to cut ties with Biel Crystal, one of its two suppliers of glass iPhone screens – despite a consistently poor workplace safety record, Apple employees’ own concerns, and Biel executives explicitly admitting that improving safety wasn’t worth it because doing so had actually led to less business from Apple – because cutting ties would have left Apple with less financial leverage over its remaining supplier, Lens Technology, according to The Information.

Biel did not respond to a request for comment.

In an illustration of just how intertwined Apple has become with unethical labor practices, The Washington Post reported earlier this week that Lens Technology itself relies on forced labor from thousands of Uyghurs that the Chinese government has displaced from their homes in Xinjiang.

While US lawmakers have proposed legislation aimed on curbing American companies’ ability to use forced Uyghur labor, Apple sought to weaken the bill, The New York Times reported last month. (Apple took issue with that claim, telling The Times that it “did not lobby against” the bill but rather had “constructive discussions” with congressional staffers).

Apple has long been criticized over the labor practices of its suppliers, particularly in China but increasingly in other countries including India, where workers at an iPhone factory rioted after accusing management of withholding their pay.

In November, Apple was also forced to cut ties with its second-largest iPhone manufacturer, Pegatron, after discovering the company had violated labor laws by relying on “student workers” who were in practice doing work that had nothing to do with their degrees.

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Amazon has reportedly been accused by the NLRB of illegally threatening and firing a worker who pushed for sick pay

FILE PHOTO: An Amazon worker delivers packages amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Denver, Colorado, U.S., April 22, 2020. Picture taken April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Mohatt/File Photo
An Amazon worker delivers packages

  • Amazon has been accused by the National Labor Relations Board of illegally firing a working who pushed for better working conditions, BuzzFeed News reported Friday.
  • Amazon fired Courtney Bowden in March after she advocated for sick pay for part-time workers.
  • Multiple legal challenges have been brought against Amazon over its firings of whistleblowers who have spoken out about working conditions at the company during the pandemic.
  • Amazon, meanwhile, has become increasingly aggressive in its attempts to monitor workers as well as silence and discredit those who raise concerns.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The National Labor Relations Board has accused Amazon of illegally firing a worker who advocated for better working conditions during the pandemic, BuzzFeed News reported Friday.

The NLRB filed a complaint against Amazon last month for firing former warehouse worker Courtney Bowden, meaning her case will be heard by a federal judge in March, according to BuzzFeed News.

Amazon fired Bowden in March after she tried to organize her coworkers to push for paid time off for part-time workers, claiming she had gotten into an altercation with a coworker, The Wall Street Journal reported in April.

Bowden disputed Amazon’s claims, telling The Wall Street Journal at the time that the company was “trying to get rid of organizers,” adding: “We are being targeted.”

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

Bowden is one of at least six workers that Amazon fired in the early days of the pandemic following frequent protests around the world over what workers said were unsafe working conditions. Those workers included Chris Smalls, who sued Amazon, claiming its COVID-19 response was racially biased and violated civil rights laws, Bashir Mohamed, who pushed for better cleaning practices, and others who criticized Amazon’s working conditions.

The firings drew strong criticism from multiple lawmakers and sparked several legal challenges from regulators in Illinois and New York as well as the NLRB, who have accused the company of violating city, state, and federal human rights and labor laws by retaliating against whistleblowers. Amazon’s response even prompted one of its top executives to resign, citing Bowden’s firing as part of his reasoning. 

Amazon started paying workers an extra $2 per hour in March as hazard pay, but dropped the practice in May, and offers limited sick pay beyond a two-week period for employees who test positive for COVID-19. The company has previously said it has taken a variety of steps to limit the spread of the virus in its facilities, including providing protective gear, implementing temperature checks, conducting some in-house testing, and implementing additional cleaning measures. The company said more than 19,000 workers have tested positive for COVID-19.

Amazon has also come under scrutiny for its increasingly aggressive efforts to monitor workers and discredit their claims about working conditions. Days after firing Smalls, a leaked memo obtained by Vice News revealed that Amazon’s top executives had planned to mount a negative PR campaign against Smalls.

“He’s not smart, or articulate, and to the extent the press wants to focus on us versus him, we will be in a much stronger PR position,” Amazon general counsel David Zapolsky wrote in notes sent to other top executives, adding that there was “general agreement” on the strategy, which was devised in a meeting attended by CEO Jeff Bezos and operations chief Dave Clark, according to Vice.

Vice has also reported that Amazon has spied on workers via private social media groups and by hiring actual private spies. Business Insider has previously reported how Amazon uses a heat-map to predict union activity among Whole Foods workers and that it’s rolling out its own AI-powered workplace monitoring tools to other companies.

Earlier this week, over four hundred lawmakers from 34 countries signed an open letter to CEO Jeff Bezos saying that Amazon’s “days of impunity are over,” accusing Amazon and Bezos of underpaying and intimidating workers, contributing to climate change, and paying unfairly low taxes.

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