Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and owner of Twitter, is facing another controversy regarding his tweets. According to a recent federal appeals court decision, Musk must remove a 2018 tweet that implied Tesla employees would lose their stock options if they organised a union since it was against the law. The decision represents a win for the National Labor Relations Board and a setback for Tesla, which has vehemently opposed United Auto Workers unionisation attempts.
This puts Musk in an awkward position as he is now the owner of Twitter and will have to retract one of his incendiary tweets. The tweet in question was posted on May 20, 2018, and received 2,673 likes. According to the labour board, Tesla was found to have frequently broken US law, including by terminating a union activist, which also determined that Musk’s tweets should be removed from Musk’s feed. Tesla argued that the First Amendment guarantee of free speech protected Musk’s tweet.
Elon Musk accused President Joe Biden of being controlled by Unions
Tesla has a history of labour breaches, and the workers may have interpreted Musk’s tweet as a threat to commit another violation by revoking stock options in retribution. This is the basis for the court’s ruling. The court also ordered Tesla to reinstate union advocate Richard Ortiz with back pay. Tesla had argued that Ortiz was terminated for lying in an investigation about his misconduct.
Tesla’s opposition to unions has caused friction with the Biden administration. Musk has joined Republicans in a fight over divisive cultural issues and accused Vice President Joseph Biden of being under the sway of unions.
Musk has already fought legal challenges related to his social media usage. Following a confrontation with the US Securities and Exchange Commission over his divisive comments on taking Tesla private in 2018, he and the business were fined $40 million. Musk’s “Twitter Sitter”—a request to be exempt from oversight—was denied by a judge in April 2022.
The Labor Board lawsuit began with accusations made by the UAW in 2017
A jury found in favour of Musk in a 2019 case involving libel accusations by a British cave diver whom the entrepreneur called “pedo man” while exchanging insults on Twitter. American labour law permits businesses to foresee the negative effects of unionisation but forbids them from threatening to penalise employees for saying so.
In court, Tesla maintained that “reasonable” employees wouldn’t interpret Musk’s statement as threatening to retaliate. The NLRB cannot impose punitive fines on businesses or hold CEOs personally accountable for infractions.
This ruling shows that even high-profile CEOs like Musk must be careful about what they post on social media, as it can have legal consequences. As an owner of Twitter, Musk is responsible for ensuring that his tweets do not violate labour laws or any other laws.