Organizers working to bring union power to Tesla

Dec 14, 2018

Eight decades ago labor organizations worked to organize Republic Steel in the bloody and violent struggle between steel companies and the Steel Workers Organizing Committee. Union officials were back at the former site of Republic Steel on South Park Avenue last night as they look to organize the workers at Tesla.

Organizers were outside the Tesla plant on South Park Avenue last night.
Credit Mike Desmond/WBFO

Now, it's the organizing committee successor, the United Steelworkers, trying to move into the green energy of the 21st Century. The organizers were outside the plant handing out leaflets to anyone entering the plant for the evening shift who would pull over. There were union flags and signs and the horn beeping of supporters driving by.

"We're looking for a wage that provides the workers with disposable income," said Jim Briggs, Steelworkers Buffalo office Sub-District Director.

This project is a great project and the purpose of the project was to bring economic value to the community and that's why tax dollars were spent on it. And, we need to make sure that the wages that they are earning do that."

Robert Walsh is a material handler for Tesla, making $16.50-per hour.

"Median wage even for non-union workers in the area is well above my current wage," Walsh said.

"We're looking to get a little bit of a better wage, be paid for the work we are doing in the plant. We want to be able to have a living wage. Personally, I'd like to be able to buy a house here, settle down for life."

Co-worker, Curtis Johnson, a production associate, discussed his working experience.

"I was working at another production company in Buffalo. I don't want to give their name out. But, I worked there. For 23 years, I was in manufacturing," said Johnson. He wouldn't disclose his current wage, though he indicated it's not enough.

Tesla says it pays better than other manufacturing companies in the area and recently raised the base pay. It also issues stock to workers.