Tesla technicians who left their jobs in Sweden say they still support the mission of the American company and its headline-grabbing CEO. But they also want Tesla to accept the Swedish way of doing business.
They call it the Swedish Model, a way of life that has defined the country's economy for decades. What is essential is cooperation between employers and employees to ensure that both parties benefit from the benefits of a company.
Instead, four technicians who left their jobs on Oct. 27 said, they have been subjected to what they described as a “typical American model”: six-day work weeks, unavoidable overtime and an evaluation system unclear to employees. promotions.
“Just work, work, work,” said Janis Kuzma, one of the striking technicians.
The union representing Tesla workers, IF Metall, does not say how many of the company's 130 technicians have retired; it may be only a few dozen. The company's 10 service centers remain open.
But as the strike moves into its third month, it is having a huge impact in the Nordic region. At least 15 other unions have taken steps to try to force Tesla to negotiate a collective agreement to set wages and benefits that reflect industry-wide standards in Sweden. Daniel Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, warned that the dispute was becoming “a major lightning rod around unions globally” for Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk.
Polls show a majority of Swedes support the strike, widely seen as a defense of the country's consensus-based way of doing business. Nine out of ten people in Sweden work under a labor agreement and strikes are relatively rare. But as the strike continues, questions are being raised about whether Sweden's reliance on labor-business agreements denies companies flexibility and agility.
That divide can be seen in the reactions of some of the country's roughly 50,000 Tesla owners, who see the strike as a power play by a wealthy and politically influential union.
Musk has rejected efforts by his 127,000 employees around the world to unionize.
The company has declined repeated requests for comment. This month, at a service center in Malmo, workers wearing Tesla T-shirts were busy getting cars in and out. Strikers on the picket line said some of those working appeared to be recent hires.
There is talk that some Tesla owners have not been able to find anyone to change their winter tires, which is essential for driving in Sweden at this time of year.
But fearing that the strike has been little more than a nuisance for Tesla, IF Metall has asked for support from other unions.
Unions from Denmark, Norway and Finland, as well as Sweden, have united around IF Metall. This means that port workers have stopped unloading Teslas that arrive by ship; union members at independent repair shops have stopped servicing Teslas; postal workers have stopped delivering Tesla mail, including license plates; and electricians have pledged to no longer repair Tesla charging stations.
It may be too early to say how much these measures are hurting the company. So far, new vehicle registration figures do not show that the strike is affecting sales: Tesla's Model Y is poised to become the most popular vehicle in Sweden in 2023, with more than 14,000 cars sold through October, according to official statistics.
The company also appears to have found a loophole to get around the postal worker blockade by ordering the plates to be mailed directly to customers.
Still, some potential buyers are concerned that, despite Tesla's promise to continue business as usual, they won't receive their cars in the promised five to eight weeks.
“I don't want to commit yet,” said John Khademi, a Tesla owner who decided to postpone ordering a new one. “I'll wait to see how it develops.”
The solidarity strikes have proven divisive. Some companies not directly involved in the strike, such as independent auto repair shops, have lost business because they have collective bargaining agreements with IF Metall that require them to reject Tesla-related business. Under Swedish law, if a union calls a solidarity strike, its members must accept it.
“Then those companies lose a lot of money and get really frustrated,” said Mattias Dahl, deputy vice president of the Confederation of Swedish Business, which represents 60,000 companies.
Some believe that these solidarity actions have gone too far. “There is no longer equality here,” said Prime Minister Nilsson, executive director of ringtonea Swedish think tank that promotes libertarian ideals and free markets.
He pointed to Spotify, the streaming audio giant founded in Stockholm in 2006, as another company that has operated in Sweden without a collective agreement. Like Tesla, it comes from a startup culture.
“Companies in the Swedish labor market should be allowed to exist without a collective agreement,” Nilsson said.
Neither side has indicated that it is willing to back down. IF Metall, which represents workers in other heavy industries, has built up its war chest over decades. It offers strikers 130 percent of their salary.
Tesla also has a lot of money (the company is valued at about $817 billion) and says it offers wages and benefits equal to or better than a collective bargaining agreement, including offering stock options as a lucrative incentive.
Tesla demonstrated its willingness to fight by suing both the Swedish agency responsible for car registrations and the postal company after its license plates were withheld. The lawsuits, filed in November, continue.
Collective bargaining, not the law, governs working conditions in Sweden. The country does not have a legal minimum wage.
Strikes are rare because once a labor agreement goes into effect, the union cannot call it. This guarantee of peace has helped keep the number of strike days in Sweden at one of the lowest levels in Europe: just over two working days lost per year due to strikes and lockouts per 1,000 employees between 2010 and 2019. compared to 55 in Norway. and 128 in France, according to a study.
Marie Nilsson has been a member of IF Metall for over 40 years and took over as leader in 2017. She remembers joining the picket line in 1995 to support workers who went on strike against Toys “R” Us, the last major American company. . who rejected a collective agreement. But the action against Tesla is the first time it has called a strike.
“It is the workers who form the union,” he said. “It's not someone from outside.”
She rejected Tesla's argument that it offers conditions equal to or better than what employees would get under a collective bargaining agreement. “This is never the case,” Nilsson said.
Four technicians who described the reasons for their strike said they admired Musk. One raved about the extended battery of the new cyber truck will be a game changer, and Kuzma drives a Model Y. But everyone agreed that, for all of Musk's genius for revolutionizing electric vehicles, he was picking a fight with a country that values consensus, and that he would be a mistake to combine the Swedish model with the United Automobile Workers, the American union that took a hard line against the big three Detroit automakers in a recent strike.
“IF Metall is not the UAW,” said one technician, who declined to give his name because he said he hoped to return to his job at Tesla after the strike and feared repercussions for speaking out. “You have to know how different unions work in different countries.”
The strike receives regular coverage in the Swedish media and has appeared in television debates. Discussions have become polarized, pitting Tesla fans and owners against the union and its members.
Some Tesla owners describe the strike as a publicity grab and a demonstration of union overreach. They point to the dozens of technicians still on the job, including some who have not joined the union, as a sign that they are happy with their jobs.
“If the working conditions were that bad, everyone would have quit,” said Ulf Siklosi, who drives a Tesla Model S. “Or everyone would join the union.”
Daniel Schlaug, another Model S owner and Tesla investor, said the company had sent letters telling owners that 90 percent of Tesla employees were still working, a figure that could not be confirmed.
Kuzma and several colleagues said they were frustrated by criticism from Tesla owners. “They don't understand that it's about them,” he said. “If the pressure on workers is too much, they won't do a good job repairing their cars.”
Last week, institutional investors from Sweden's Nordic neighbors (who together manage $1 trillion in assets) sent a letter to Tesla's board of directors saying they were “deeply concerned” about Tesla's attitude toward copyright. workers in Sweden and calling for a meeting early next year.
Ms Nilsson would also like to speak to Mr Musk. When she was asked what she would say if he called her, she replied, “I would love to.”
“I would say, 'Let me explain and listen to your expectations,'” he said. “Let's talk about it.”
Christina Anderson contributed with reports.
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