Tesla can prohibit factory workers from wearing union t-shirts’: Court

The court reversed a 2022 NLRB ruling that said banning union symbols was only allowed if an employer could show 'special circumstances,' such as safety concerns


As per a recent ruling by the Federal Court, Tesla has not violated the US Labour Law by preventing employees at its main Fremont, California, assembly plant from wearing pro-union t-shirts. The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals, based in New Orleans, ruled on Tuesday, 14 November, 2023, that Tesla’s uniform policy was lawful.

The court overturned a 2022 ruling by the National Labour Relations Board (NLRB) that stated any effort to prohibit union symbols was considered unlawful unless an employer could demonstrate ‘special circumstances,’ such as safety concerns. In the recent ruling, however, the court emphasised that the company mandated all employees to wear company-issued shirts but permitted them to display union stickers.

The court deemed it incorrect for the NLRB to demand that Tesla demonstrate special justifications for its policy. The court argued that since the company permitted workers to attach any union stickers of their choice to their team wear, it was not unlawfully obstructing union organising.

The electric car manufacturer implemented its uniform policy in 2017 during a union organising drive by the United Auto Workers (UAW). The team wear policy mandated employees to wear black shirts bearing the Tesla logo.

Furthermore, the company asserted that this policy was essential to safeguard vehicles from potential damage during the assembly process. However, the union has alleged that Tesla used several illegal tactics to suppress organising efforts.

Currently, the 5th Circuit is looking at Tesla’s appeal where it argues against a decision by the NLRB. The NLRB had said that in 2018, Elon Musk, CEO, Tesla, broke labour laws by tweeting that workers would lose stock options if they joined a union. In March, a three-judge panel from the 5th Circuit agreed with the labour board’s decision.

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