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US court rules Musk Tesla union campaign tweet illegal

A 2018 tweet by Tesla CEO Elon Musk amounted to an unlawful threat that could discourage employees from joining a union, a US appeals court has ruled.

April 2, 2023
By Daniel Wiessner
2 April 2023

A US appeals court says Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk violated federal labour law by tweeting employees of the electric vehicle maker would lose stock options if they joined a union.

The New Orleans-based 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a decision by the US National Labor Relations Board that said the 2018 tweet amounted to an unlawful threat that could discourage unionising and ordered Musk to delete it.

Amid an organising campaign at Tesla’s Fremont, California, plant by the United Auto Workers union, Musk tweeted: “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union … But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?”

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Musk’s prolific use of Twitter has landed him in legal trouble before. 

Tesla in February defeated a lawsuit from investors over another Musk tweet from 2018 saying funding was secured to take the company private, and a British cave explorer unsuccessfully sued Musk for calling him a “pedo guy” on Twitter.

Musk purchased Twitter last year for $US44 billion ($A66 billion).

In Friday’s case, Tesla had argued the tweet about unionising was not a threat and merely reflected the fact union workers at other auto companies did not receive stock options.

But a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit disagreed.

“Substantial evidence supports the NLRB’s conclusion that the tweet is an implied threat to end stock options as retaliation for unionisation,” the 5th Circuit panel wrote.

The labour board in a separate case last year said Tesla violated labour law by prohibiting workers at the Fremont plant from wearing shirts supporting the union campaign. 

The company is appealing that decision. 

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