‘If Tesla gets unionized it’s because we deserve it’: Elon Musk says he’s made his factory workers millionaires but concedes some may still turn against him

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The United Auto Workers (UAW) warned Elon Musk it would be recruiting members of Tesla staff from right under his nose. Now Musk—an outspoken critic of unions—says if his employees did choose to join, the company would be partly to blame.

In a wide-ranging interview during the New York Times' DealBook Summit this week, Musk said he didn’t like unions, because they created a divide within organizations.

The richest man on earth said he had worked hard to create opportunities for staff across the hierarchy of his company—even claiming he had made factory workers millionaires thanks to stock options. As a result, he implied there’s no need for unions at Tesla.

“I think it’s generally not good to have an adversarial relationship between one group at the company and another group,” Musk said. “I disagree with the idea of unions … [because] I just don’t like anything which creates a lords and peasants sort of thing.

“I think the unions naturally try to create negativity in a company.”

Whatever Musk’s opinion is on UAW tactics, the union has notched some high-profile victories in recent months. Led by president Shawn Fain, UAW secured a deal in November for a record 33% pay hike for staff at the Detroit Three automakers, which include General Motors, Stellantis (formerly known as Fiat Chrysler), and Ford Motor.

Having announced the landmark win against the U.S.’s three largest vehicle manufacturers, Fain made it clear he’d be banging on the door of Tesla next. A post on UAW’s site reads: “Elon Musk is the richest man in the world, with a net worth of $230 billion. U.S. production has more than doubled since 2020, and Tesla’s sales are booming.

“The question is, will Tesla workers get their fair share? It’s time for Tesla workers to stand up and fight for more.”

In the interview on Nov. 29, Musk seemed certain he’s done his part to ensure his staff have indeed had their fair share, saying: “There are many people at Tesla who have gone from working on the line to being in senior management. There is no lords and peasants. Everyone eats at the same table, everyone parks in the same parking lot.

“The thing is I actually know the people on the line because I worked on the line.”

Musk, who famously slept on the floor of Tesla factories, added: “I’m no stranger to them.”

‘We deserve it’

Musk claimed he has even offered to hold a companywide vote on unionization at Tesla “many times,” but was told it had to be called for by staff or the union.

“I don’t know, maybe they will unionize,” he mused. “If Tesla gets unionized it will be because we deserved it, and because we failed in some way.”

Musk has already had a taste of what could occur if workers did decide to join: Just a week ago the company was hit by its first-ever strike.

Sweden’s industrial union IF Metall brought the company’s operations to a complete standstill in the Scandinavian country after Tesla refused to agree to a wage deal with 120 mechanics at seven different workshops.

IF Metall declared a strike in late October, which has since picked up more unions, including dockworkers who now refuse to unload imported Tesla cars arriving in ports and even workers from the state-owned postal service responsible for delivering license plates.

“This is insane,” Musk griped of the situation after being tagged in a post on X.

In the U.S., Tesla has pushed back against union rumblings, recently telling staff they couldn’t wear UAW-branded T-shirts.

The man worth $228 billion at the time of writing added Tesla “tries hard to ensure the prosperity of everyone,” adding: “We give everyone stock options; we’ve made many people who are just working the line—who didn’t even know what stocks were—we’ve made them millionaires.”

In an appeal to his 120,000 staff at the EV maker, Musk said his main concern about talent is encouraging staff to stay with Tesla when they’re being offered easier jobs with other businesses.

“The challenge is, how do we retain great people to do the hard work of building cars when they have six other opportunities that they can do that are easier,” he added. “That’s the actual difficulty.

“I just want to say that I’m incredibly appreciative of those that build the cars, and they know it,” he added.

This story was originally featured on Fortune.com

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