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'This isn't OK': Tesla workers fired from Buffalo gigafactory one day after announcing union push

The exterior of the Tesla gigafactory in South Buffalo
Chris Caya
The Tesla gigafactory in South Buffalo

Tesla Workers United say at least 30 people were fired from the gigafactory in South Buffalo Wednesday, just one day after some workers at the plant announced they intend to form a union.

Tesla Workers United, the group who are leading the unionization attempt, have filed a complaint with the U.S. National Relations Board alleging that Tesla has illegally terminated the employees "in retaliation for union activity and to discourage union activity."

If successful, the Buffalo workers would be the first union at the multi-billion dollar company, since previous unionization efforts have failed. The union push at the gigafactory is happening with support from Workers United Upstate New York, the group who facilitated the first unionized Starbucks in the country on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo.

Sara Costantino is a worker and member of the organization committee to form a union at the plant. She spoke with WBFO’s Holly Kirkpatrick about this week's events. Listen to the interview by clicking the link at the top of the page, or read the transcript, below.

WBFO: You're part of the organizing committee for Tesla Workers United who announced Tuesday that you intend to form a union along with Workers United Upstate New York. However, it was reported that yesterday that dozens of people were terminated or let go from the Tesla gigaplant in Buffalo. What happened yesterday?

Costantino: Well, we walked in the door and everything was going pretty normal. And then a few people were walked out and their desks were boxed up. And we were a little worried. And then more people came out, and were walked out, and we got scared. And then it just became more and more and more, and we got angry. This isn't okay.

WBFO: How many people were fired yesterday from Tesla?

Costantino: We have about 30 that we're aware of.

WBFO: And are you aware of the reason they were told that they were being let go?

Costantino: They were told it was for performance reasons. Now we have performance reviews every six months; these reviews weren't supposed to happen until the end of March. So they moved that timeline up.

WBFO: How did other workers there react?

Costantino: I think we were all on the same boat. Like truthfully, I think in the beginning, it was like, what the heck is going on? And then it was, are we all losing our jobs? And then it was, oh, so you think you can scare us?

WBFO: Can we just talk a little bit about why you intend to form a union? What are the goals or the desired outcomes for you?

Costantino: Of course, our biggest thing right now is that we just want a voice with our company. We have no way of really fighting for things that we want, whether that's work from home privileges, whether that's better vacation, sick pay, whether that's flex scheduling, we can start earlier, start later, or whatever it is, we don't have that voice. And that's really our biggest thing we're fighting for right now.

WBFO: The Tesla CEO Elon Musk has voiced his opposition to labor unions in the past, and other unionization efforts at Tesla haven't been successful, including some efforts that happened at South Buffalo as well. What makes you think that this attempt is different?

Costantino: I think this time, we're just so exhausted. It doesn't matter what they hand us, doesn't matter what they're going to do to us. We're going to fight. We deserve to be here. We believe in what Tesla is doing. And we want to be a part of it. But it should be better for us.

WBFO: You do sound like you enjoy working there somewhat -you say that you believe in what Tesla does.

Costantino: I truly love my job. It's just we deserve better. And I will fight for that. You know, I don't think anyone should work for a company who sees them as robots.

WBFO: Sara Costantino, thank you for your time today

Costantino: Thank you, Holly, I appreciate it.

WBFO called Tesla on their number provided online, but was unable to get through.

Updated: February 17, 2023 at 11:30 AM EST
In a blog post published Feb. 16, Tesla states that allegations that the firings were in response to the new union campaign are "false," and said the terminations were part of a scheduled performance review cycle that happens every six months.

"This review process takes place globally, including in North America, Europe, China, etc. It is not localized to Buffalo," the company said.

"The most recent performance review cycle was from July 2022 through December 2022. On December 13th, 2022, managers across the company received a communication regarding the review schedule. This included information noting that exits for low performers would start the week of February 12, 2023," Tesla's blog post states.

According to Tesla, the "impacted employees" were identified 10 days before they were aware of the union campaign.

You can read Tesla's full response on their blog.