The clash between Tesla and its repair workshop mechanics, which initially surfaced in Sweden on October 27, has escalated across Scandinavia, involving Denmark, Finland, and Norway. Elon Musk, as the majority shareholder and CEO of the electric vehicle giant, faces mounting resistance in the socially democratic nations of Scandinavia as Tesla resists signing a collective agreement defining employee wages.
This dispute, starting with 130 mechanics at ten Tesla repair workshops in Sweden, has ballooned into an international strike movement. Tesla's challenge against sector-specific minimum wages established by collective agreements in Sweden, where union membership covers 70% of the population, has ignited a response from 15 Swedish unions and garnered support from powerful entities like IF Metall.
The impact has rippled through various sectors: transporters are refusing vehicle deliveries, electricians are avoiding charging station repairs, cleaners are halting showroom maintenance, and refuse collectors are neglecting Tesla centers' waste. Retail chains have halted Tesla sales, and even Stockholm taxis have suspended purchases of Tesla vehicles.
The solidarity strike in Sweden has prompted Nordic nations to join in. Denmark's major union, 3F, declared support for Swedish workers, and Norway's prominent private sector union threatened to block Tesla car transit to Sweden if no agreement is reached by December 20. Following suit, Finland's transport workers' union, AKT, expressed solidarity, emphasizing the importance of collective agreements and union support in the Nordic labor market model.
While international sympathy strikes are rare, this movement echoes historic events, such as the 1995 mobilization against Toys "R" Us. The American toy company faced similar resistance, eventually yielding to union pressure after extensive strikes in Sweden and Europe.
Elon Musk expressed his outrage over the revolt, labeling the industrial action as "insane" in a tweet on November 23, 2023. In response, Tesla attempted legal action to compel the Swedish postal operator to deliver license plates and sought compensation for a loss exceeding €87,000. However, their prosecution request was denied by a Swedish court on December 7.
To navigate the situation, Tesla is actively seeking a government affairs specialist in Sweden to assist in resolving the issue. A recent job posting on the Tesla careers website indicates their search for an individual with a proven track record in effecting regulatory changes in the Nordics.
Further complicating matters for Musk, a group of influential pension funds in the Nordic region, including Norway's KLP, Sweden's Folksam, and Denmark's PFA, expressed deep concern in a letter to Tesla, defending the tradition of collective bargaining in Sweden. They urged Tesla to reconsider its approach to unions and requested a meeting with the Tesla board in early 2024.
Some funds took more drastic measures individually. PensionDanmark in Denmark sold its 476 million Danish crowns (€64 million) in Tesla holdings on December 7, while the Norges Bank Investment Bank (NBIM), the operator of the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund and a significant Tesla shareholder, emphasized its commitment to pressuring the company to respect labor rights.
This labor dispute poses significant risks for Tesla, especially in Scandinavia, where the company enjoys a strong consumer base. As per Yohann Aucante, damaging its image in this region is something Tesla would want to avoid, especially amid the trend toward greener economies. There's speculation that the strike's impact might extend to Tesla's Gigafactory in Berlin-Brandenburg, potentially influenced by the successful union negotiations at German operations.
Moreover, despite Tesla employees in the U.S. not yet unionizing, recent successful negotiations by the United Auto Workers (UAW) with other major automakers could raise concerns for Tesla regarding potential union movements within its American workforce.
--------This article is partly excerpted from France 24.