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Tesla's policy requiring workers wear plain black t-shirts, or those with Tesla logos, at work is 'unlawful,' National Labor Relations Board rules

Tesla's policy requiring workers wear plain black t-shirts, or those with Tesla logos, at work is 'unlawful,' National Labor Relations Board rules

Tesla can't restrict its workers from displaying union insignia, like wearing union t-shirts and buttons, at work, the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Monday.
The majority of the board said it's "unlawful for Tesla to maintain a policy requiring employees to wear a plain black t-shirt or one imprinted with the employer's logo, thus prohibiting employees from substituting a shirt bearing union insignia."

Tesla, the board said, would have to find "special circumstances" to make its employee apparel rules necessary "to maintain production or discipline." The board majority found that Tesla did not have any special circumstances for the rule.

"Wearing union insignia, whether a button or a t-shirt, is a critical form of protected communication," NLRB chairman Lauren McFerran said. "For many decades, employees have used insignia to advocate for their workplace interests – from supporting organizing campaigns, to protesting unfair conditions in the workplace – and the law has always protected them."

Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk, do not have a reputation of being pro-union.

The NLRB previously ruled against Tesla in 2021 for violating labor laws by not allowing its workers to organize and talk about working conditions. Tesla was also ordered by the NLRB to rehire a union activist worker it fired in 2017.

The 2021 NLRB decision also ruled that Musk "unlawfully threatened" Tesla workers in a tweet from 2o18, and ordered him to remove the tweet.

In September 2021, Musk criticized a bill from Democratic House lawmakers that would benefit electric-vehicle makers that had unions. He blamed the bill on "Ford/UAW lobbyists," and tweeted that it was "not obvious how this serves American taxpayers."

But in 2022, Musk tweeted an invite to the United Auto Workers Union to come to a Tesla factory and hold a union vote. In a Twitter reply to an article about the invitation, Musk shared a YouTube video saying it "helps explain why former UAW members who work at Tesla are not huge fans of UAW."

After Musk sent a companywide email to Tesla executives in June 2022 saying they had to work in the office at minimum 40 hours a week or resign, he received pushback from Germany's largest trade union, IG Metall. Tesla's factory workers were already being required to work in person through the pandemic.

The union told Reuters that it would support German workers who did not want to return to the office.

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