In Germany, the largest metalworkers union, IG Metall, declared war on Tesla co-founder Elon Musk who is building his first European plant in the country.
The union came into conflict with Musk, which will undermine the ambitions of the US billionaire or reduce the role of the organization that for many years had a major influence on the German car market, Bloomberg analyzes.
The union has about 2.3 million members and has always demanded better wages and changes in strategy with the real threat of strikes.
The conflict focuses on Tesla’s refusal to sign the collective wage agreement that is standard in Germany. The document regulates the conditions of employment of members of trade unions.
After Tesla refused to sign the deal and ignored the union’s letter seeking dialogue, activists began to pressure the company.
During a protest in Berlin, members criticized the electric car maker for stealing the head of local Mercedes factory, Rene Reif. One of the union leaders urged Elon Musk not to demonize the collective agreement, but to see it as a way to build a healthy and collective working relationship.
“It is not good for an automaker to be in permanent conflict with IG Metall. The union has organizational power, has money, has experience. It can withstand a long struggle,” said Christian Baumler, a member of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union, who promotes the trade union agenda.
For IG Metall, the concern is that Tesla will follow the footsteps of Amazon, which has expanded into Europe’s largest economy without signing pay deals for its warehouse workers, despite years of protests organized by the union.
Musk wants to attract workers with unregulated wages and stock buying options, as well as other promising advantages, they say. If successful, it could threaten IG Metall’s ability to get what it wants from other automakers.
Musk has already shown his opposition stance to the unions. When an employee at Tesla’s California plant in 2017 asked the United Auto Workers union to help unionize the site, Musk wrote an email suggesting that the man was trying to undermine the company and later suggested that organizing the factory would mean no more stock-buying options.
The struggle for power comes at a delicate time for the union, as its members risk losing the job for sure that the automotive world has promised for decades.
As German auto industry executives negotiate tough cuts with IG Metall to pay for investments in electric mobility, they could also signal lower costs from Tesla and thus increase pressure on the union to stop their demands.
The Tesla plant in the German region of Brandenburg should be the first European plant of a North American company. The first vehicles are expected to roll off the assembly line in the summer of 2021.
The Tesla factory promises to create up to 40,000 jobs in eastern Germany, a region that lost most of its heavy industry during World War II.
However, in the course of the project the company has faced a number of problems. Local residents and environmentalists have criticized Tesla for logging and have also expressed their fear of water shortages in the region.