Appeals Court Orders Fired Tesla Employee Rehired

Richard Ortiz says he looks forward to returning to work at Tesla’s Fremont, CA, plant and rejoining the UAW’s effort to organize employees there.

Joseph Szczesny

April 7, 2023

2 Min Read
Tesla factory (Getty)
UAW’s 10-year effort to organize Tesla’s Fremont, CA, plant gets judicial boost.Getty Images

A federal appeals court says Tesla and its CEO, Elon Musk, broke the law and must rehire, with back pay, a pro-union employee fired in 2017 while the UAW was campaigning to organize workers at the electric-vehicle maker’s plant in Fremont, CA.

Richard Ortiz, the fired employee, says he plans to return to work at the San Francisco-area factory following the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upholding a National Labor Relations Board order directing the company to rehire him.

“This is a happy day where my rights were finally vindicated. I look forward to returning to work at Tesla and working with my co-workers to finish the job of forming a Union,” Ortiz says in a statement released by the UAW.

Tesla-UAW logos.jpg

Tesla-UAW logos

Neither Tesla nor the normally voluble Musk has responded to the ruling issued March 31.

The New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit appeals court – one of the most conservative in the federal system – upheld rulings by an administrative law judge acting on a complaint by the UAW and NLRB claiming Musk violated federal law by firing Ortiz and by the Tesla CEO’s “implied” threat in 2018 to take away employee stock options if they joined the union.

Shawn Fain, the UAW’s new president, says: “Here is a company that clearly broke the law and yet it is several years down the road before these workers have achieved a modicum of justice. For the workers who make these companies run, it’s not about electric vehicles or internal-combustion vehicles. It’s about justice on and off the job.”

For the UAW, the battle over representation at Tesla’s Fremont plant, which the union had organized when it belonged to New United Motor Manufacturing, a General Motors-Toyota joint venture before the property was sold to Musk, began in 2013 when it set up its first organizing committee.

The union gradually picked up supporters and the UAW helped Tesla employees file complaints about safety procedures at the plant, prompting Musk to argue that the factory was safer for workers than other auto plants. The dispute over safety ultimately led to firing of Ortiz and the layoffs of several other pro-union employees in 2017.

Since then, the UAW’s efforts have sputtered as Tesla has grown and the union waited out the legal proceedings around the Ortiz case. In 2022, though, Musk, in a tweet taunting the union about its devastating corruption scandal, offered to let Tesla employees vote on whether they wanted to join the UAW.

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