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Germany’s biggest union hits back at Elon Musk’s return-to-the-office order: ‘An employer cannot dictate the rules just as he likes’

June 2, 2022, 8:05 PM UTC

After Elon Musk appeared ready to shut down Tesla’s work-from-home policy this week, union organizers representing one of its major manufacturing plants have sounded a warning to the tech mogul.

“Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean *minimum*) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla,” wrote Musk in a leaked email shared by company shareholder Sam Nissim.

Though the email appears directed at the company’s white-collar workers across the globe, IG Metall, Germany’s largest trade union, opted to respond. In March, Tesla opened its first manufacturing plant in Europe, called Giga Berlin, in the German state of Brandenburg. 

“In Germany an employer cannot dictate the rules just as he likes,” said Birgit Dietze, a regional IG Metall leader, in a statement. “A worker can rely on the strength and power of her or his union if she or he does not want to accept the demands of the company,” she added, recognizing the German constitution’s protections for labor organizing.

IG Metall represents metalworkers, including those working for other car makers like BMW and Volkswagen. Earlier this year, the union opened an office close to Tesla’s Brandenburg facility, and in February, employees at the factory, some of whom were union members, elected 19 delegates to its first workers’ council.

Musk left little room for negotiation in his email. “If there are particularly exceptional contributors for whom this is impossible, I will review and approve those exceptions directly,” he wrote.

Tesla’s workplace protocols have been under scrutiny since April, when another major manufacturing plant in Shanghai reportedly asked workers to enter a “closed-loop” system as the city enacted strict COVID restrictions. Factory workers were made to work 12-hour shifts while sleeping at the facility.

Musk’s email seemingly references those protocols: “This is less than [what] we ask of factory workers.” When prompted on Twitter to comment on workers who might view coming into work as an “antiquated concept,” he responded: “They should pretend to work somewhere else.”

Musk has been vocally antiunion for years. In March, Tesla appealed a National Labor Relations Board order to delete a May 2018 tweet that the agency said had violated the law. “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union,” Musk’s tweet said. “Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues and give up stock options for nothing?” 

The NLRB ultimately upheld its decision later that month, arguing that Musk violated worker protections by threatening to revoke benefits from unionized workers.

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