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Unions aim to organize workers at Tesla plant

The United Steelworkers and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers have launched a drive to organize production and maintenance workers at Tesla's solar products factory in South Buffalo.

Tesla employs about 400 people at the RiverBend factory. The Steelworkers said workers at the facility had reached out to that union about organizing, and that the Steelworkers and IBEW agreed to work jointly on the effort.

"The only way we can ensure that we have a voice in the company and have equal rights across the board is with a union contract," said Aaron Nicpon, a member of the internal organizing committee, in a statement provided by the Steelworkers. "We want to have a voice at Tesla so we that we can have a better future for ourselves and our families."

The Steelworkers union represents area workers including at the Sumitomo Rubber USA and DuPont plants in the Town of Tonawanda.

"We're committed to the continuing success of this facility and to making sure that Tesla's highly skilled workforce has good, family-sustaining jobs," said John Shinn, the Steelworkers' District 4 director.

David Wasiura, an official with Steelworkers District 4, said a "good number" of Tesla workers are supporting the organizing effort, but he declined to specify how many. The union expects the bargaining unit to consist of about 300 workers if the organizing drive succeeds.

"They're really looking for job security, a level, fair playing field for all workers, and a chance at a family-sustaining generational job that they know they can achieve through a collective bargaining unit and unionization," Wasiura said of the workers who have expressed interest in a union representing them.

Wasiura said the union had not been contacted by Panasonic employees, who also work at the site.

Tesla defended its pay and compensation rates.

"Tesla greatly values its employees and the direct relationship it has with them at our Buffalo facility," the company said. "We offer wages and benefits that exceed those of other comparable manufacturing jobs in the region, and we recently increase our base pay even further.

"In addition, unlike other manufacturers, every single employee is an owner of Tesla, as everyone receives stock upon hire and for good performance, which results in significantly more compensation beyond our already high wages," Tesla said.

 The Clean Air Coalition and the Coalition for Economic Justice are also supporting the organizing campaign. A host of environmental groups around the country also issued statements of support for the campaign.

Rebecca Newberry, executive director of the Clean Air Coalition, said the group wants to see a greater benefit to workers resulting from the public investment in the Tesla plant. "We were promised jobs that would sustain families," Newberry said.

Newberry said Tesla needs to raise pay levels for its workers at the plant. "We're definitely for the company being successful. But success to us looks like success across the board."

The United Auto Workers union also is trying to organize workers at Tesla's auto plant in California.

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