Union swag at Tesla has arrived. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) said that: Tesla’s current dress code was illegal. Specifically, the part where employees were only allowed to wear Tesla or other pre-approved black T-shirts. That policy meant that union swag was not allowed – a hindrance to anyone trying to organize or show union solidarity.
Tesla’s policy came into effect in 2017, and it’s reported that employees told them not to wear shirts with the United Auto Workers logo. Tesla tried to justify its dress policy to the board, claiming that its black shirts prevented damage to cars and that it should maintain “visual management” of its employees. The NLRB rejected this.
“With today’s decision, the Board of Directors reaffirms that any attempt to restrict the wearing of union clothing or insignia is presumably illegal,” NLRB chairman Lauren McFerran said. Special circumstances persist and allow employers to apply minor restrictions, such as the size and location of the union insignia.
A prominent example of a “special circumstance” classification is how Wal-Mart argued that customer-facing employees should maintain professional attire. While it can be difficult for union supporters at Tesla to wear a red shirt (the usual color for union solidarity) with the UAW logo, Tesla cannot prohibit them from wearing the logo themselves.
Tesla enforced a rule that prohibits wearing t-shirts with a logo other than the Tesla logo while on a union ride.
The employer would allow employees to wear their own black t-shirts with regulator approval, but not black t-shirts with a union logo.
— NLRB (@NLRB) 29 August 2022
Organizing work at Tesla was not stopped by the dress code. In 2019, a judge ruled that the company 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 of a call to protect the company’s labor rights, but more of a apparent daring on Twitter to prove there’s no need to unionize at Tesla. “I would like to hereby invite UAW to hold a union vote when it suits them. Tesla won’t do anything to stop them,” Musk said at the time.
Although no vote has taken place, the NLRB’s latest ruling should make it easier for organizers to show solidarity.