Tis a Great week for Tesla’s “mega factory” in Grünheide, near Berlin. According to the German press, the US electric car maker will get the final green light from local authorities to start operations within days. Somehow, you’ve already done it. On February 28, Tesla workers elected their first business council, a group of employees who in German law collaborate with managers in making decisions such as working hours, vacations and training.
For Elon Musk, the anti-union CEO of Tesla, this must be annoying. He attempted to protect his first factory in Germany from Germany’s strict labor laws by incorporating the business as Societas Europaea (SE), a public company registered under European Union Companies law exempts from some “joint decision” rules, such as the requirement for companies with more than 2,000 employees to give workers half the seats on supervisory boards. SEHowever, s are not excluded from having a business council.
IG Mittal, Germany’s most powerful union representing auto workers, has been on a collision course with Mr. Musk since he refused to sign industry collective wage agreements (the only other company not listed is Volkswagen, which has its own generous wage deal). It has set up an office near the mega factory to advise Tesla workers about their rights and listen to their grievances. I’ve hired a Polish spokesperson to organize the employees that Tesla hires across the border in Poland. She hopes that persuading enough Tesla workers to join her ranks will add oomph to her campaign to join the collective wage deal; The union says the company pays its top employees well but that production line workers get a fifth less than those in the BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Most importantly, she sees the Action Council as the first step towards full participation.
Mr. Musk should see it differently. He may have rushed the elections in order to have a more sympathetic council. Tesla has so far employed only about 2,500 mostly senior and skilled workers, out of a workforce that will grow to 12,000 or so. These employees are the ones most likely to cooperate with management. Rest of Deutschland AG You’ll be watching to see if Germany changes Tesla to something less abrasive or if Tesla changes working relationships in Germany to something less consensual. ■
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This article appeared in the business section of the print edition under the heading “A Lesson in Business German”
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