Tesla workers at the company’s Buffalo Gigafactory have filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) accusing Twitter of “shadowbanning” their newly made union account, according to Vice News. The group announced their intention to unionize on February 14th — they even posted a public statement on Twitter about “seeking a voice on the job.” However, the group’s tweets stopped appearing in search results by the next day, indicating that their account had been shadowbanned.
“In February 2023, immediately following workers announcing a union campaign at the Tesla Gigafactory 2 facility, the above-named employer, through CEO Elon Musk and/or his agents and representatives, caused the Union’s Twitter account (@united_tesla) to be shadow banned from the Twitter platform,” The group said in an NLRB filing made by Workers United, the union backing the campaign.
We’ve confirmed that when you do a search for “united_tesla” or “TeslaWorkersUnited,” the results don’t include any tweets posted by the account itself. Usually, searching for a user would surface their tweets, but when you use those search terms, you’ll only see results tagging the group or mentioning their name. A group spokesperson told Vice News that they ran a shadowban test and found that their account “had been ‘search suggestion banned’ on the one platform [their] employer owns.”
Tesla chief Elon Musk, who purchased Twitter for $44 billion last year, is known to be a staunch union critic. In 2018, he tweeted that there was nothing stopping Tesla workers from joining a union in response to someone asking about reports that the company had anti-union management. However, he also asked: “[W]hy pay union dues [and] give up stock options for nothing[?]” The NLRB ruled that the tweet violated labor laws, deeming it as a threat that employees would be giving up company-paid stock options if they unionize. It also asked Musk to delete his tweet, which he has yet to do, as Tesla is currently appealing the labor board’s decision.
The workers behind this particular campaign are in charge of labeling data from Tesla’s Autopilot technology. They previously told Bloomberg that they’re asking the company not just for better pay, but also for better working conditions. The workers said Tesla monitors their keystrokes to determine how much time they spend on each task, and that they’ve had to skip bathroom breaks as a result. They also accused the company of illegally terminating employees “in retaliation for… and to discourage union activity.”
In a blog post, Tesla said that was a “false allegation” and that the terminated Autopilot employees were low performers. It said the company conducts performance reviews every six months and that the affected workers didn’t “demonstrate sufficient improvement” despite the feedback they received. Further, the company said that it identified the employees it was going to fire back on February 3rd, long before the group announced that they were seeking to unionize. The automaker also said that it only implements time monitoring “to calculate how long it takes to label an image,” so “there is nothing to be gained by delaying bathroom breaks.”