The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled it “unlawful” for Tesla to prohibit its employees from wearing union t-shirts or buttons at work, criticizing a company policy that required factory workers to dress in plain, black t-shirts or ones that bear the Tesla logo.
Tesla would have to find “special circumstances” to force its dress code on its employees, if it were somehow necessary to “maintain production or discipline,” according to the ruling. Otherwise, the labor board decided that Tesla can’t force its employees to not display union insignia at work by requiring them to wear black t-shirts with only the Tesla logo allowed. “With today’s decision, the Board reaffirms that any attempt to restrict the wearing of union clothing or insignia is presumptively unlawful and – consistent with Supreme Court precedent – an employer has a heightened burden to justify attempts to limit this important right,” NLRB Chairman Lauren McFerran said in a statement. “Wearing union insignia, whether a button or a t-shirt, is a critical form of protected communication. 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 has previously come under criticism for trying to squash union efforts at the company, where its employees have often complained about being overworked and underpaid. In March 2021, NLRB ruled that Tesla repeatedly violated U.S. labor law over the past few years after trying to interfere with their employees’ push for a union. The board also ordered Tesla to rehire a union employee that the company had fired in 2017. Tesla CEO Elon Musk also tweeted a potential threat in 2018 that employees could lose their stock options if they chose to unionize. Musk also recently gave his executive employees at Tesla an ultimatum that they must return to office full-time or they were at risk of losing their jobs.