Tesla anti-union black t-shirt policy ruled unlawful by NLRB

Union swag at Tesla is in. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) said that Tesla’s current dress code policy was unlawful. Specifically, the part where it only allowed employees to wear Tesla or other pre-approved black tee shirts. That policy meant union swag was not allowed — a hindrance to anyone trying to organize or show union solidarity.

Tesla’s policy went into effect in 2017, and employees were reportedly told they couldn’t wear shirts baring the United Auto Workers logo. Tesla attempted to justify its dress policy to the board claiming that its black shirts prevent damage to cars and it needed to maintain “visual management” of its employees. The NLRB rejected this.

“With today’s decision, the Board reaffirms that any attempt to restrict the wearing of union clothing or insignia is presumptively unlawful,” said NLRB Chairman Lauren McFerran. Special circumstances continue to exist and allow employers to apply minor restrictions, such as size and location of the union insignia.

A prominent example of a “special circumstance” classification is how Wal-Mart argued that customer-facing employees needed to maintain professional attire. While it might be difficult for union supporters at Tesla to wear a red shirt (the common color for union solidarity) with the UAW logo, Tesla cannot restrict them from wearing the logo itself.

Labor organizing at Tesla wasn’t halted by the dress code. In 2019, a judge ruled that the company had been sabotaging unionization efforts. The NLRB also forced Musk to delete anti-union tweets from 2018. In March of this year Tesla CEO Elon Musk even invited the UAW to hold a union vote. That was less a call for protecting labor rights at the company and more an apparent dare on Twitter to prove unionization isn’t necessary at Tesla. “I’d like hereby to invite UAW to hold a union vote at their convenience. Tesla will do nothing to stop them.” Musk said at the time.

While no vote has happened, organizers should have an easier time showing solidarity thanks to the NLRB’s latest ruling.

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