Science, Technology, and Social Media

Buddies No More? Enviros At Sierra Club Could Sabotage Their Relationship With Musk

  • Tesla employees seek to unionize the company’s Buffalo plant as the automaker attempts to meet crucial hiring promises at the facility.
  • Sierra Club’s decision to support an effort to unionize a Tesla plant in New York could put a crimp in the group’s relationship with CEO Elon Musk.
  • Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s past successful staving off unions might come to an end shortly. 

The Sierra Club tossed its support behind a move to unionize a major Tesla plant in New York, even as company CEO Elon Musk continues pushing back against unionizing efforts — the group and the tech tycoon share a famously close relationship.

The campaign involves hundreds of employees at Tesla’s solar panel facility in Buffalo and includes International Brotherhood of Electric Workers. Unionizing the shop could seriously hamper the company’s ability to bring thousands of jobs to New York within a decade.

The Sierra Club is apparently on board with the idea.

“The Sierra Club strongly supports workers in Buffalo and all those across the country working to build unions to advocate for safe conditions and family-sustaining wages as they help tackle the climate crisis,” the group noted in a statement Friday.

“With that growth and innovation, Tesla also has the opportunity to serve as a model for how successful clean energy companies treat and relate to their workers,” the statement concluded.

Sierra Club’s maneuvering on the issue is surprising given the group’s close connections to Musk.

Musk asked the activist group’s executive director in July to publicize an anonymous $6 million donation he made to the group in 2018, presumably to distract from donations the entrepreneur made to the GOP. His request came the same month Musk sought funding from Saudi Arabia.

Musk called Sierra Club’s executive director, Michael Brune, on July 18 and asked that he make public the sizable contributions. He also enlisted Brune to vouch for him on Twitter to quell a firestorm over the billionaire’s $38,900 contribution to a committee supporting the GOP in the midterm elections.

Neither Sierra Club nor Tesla have responded to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment about Musk’s take on the group’s support. Musk has not weighed in on the effort, but he has previously harshly criticized past unionizing efforts.

The United Automobile Workers (UAW) union confirmed in 2017 that Tesla employees approached them about unionizing the company’s main California assembly plant. The Silicon Valley billionaire was not happy.

UAW later dispelled claims Musk made at the time suggesting former Tesla employee Jose Moran “is not and has not been paid by the UAW.” He accused Moran, who helped kick-start the unionizing effort, of being a union stooge paid to “agitate for a union.”

“Our understanding is that this guy was paid by the UAW to join Tesla and agitate for a union,” Musk said on Twitter. “Frankly, I find this attack to be morally outrageous. Tesla is the last car company left in California because costs are so high.”

Unionizing the Buffalo plant could hurt the company’s ability to ratchet up employment at the solar panel factory. Tesla made a commitment in 2016 to create 1,460 jobs at the Buffalo factory and hire 5,000 employees in New York in exchange for the state spending $750 million to build and equip the plant. The company must pay penalties of as much as $41.2 million for every year it falls short.

A Tesla representative told reporters the company pays $16.20 an hour and give them benefits.

“We offer wages and benefits that exceed those of other comparable manufacturing jobs in the region, and we recently increased our base pay even further,” Tesla said in a press statement.

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