Tesla hired a PR firm to monitor an employee Facebook group amid unionization effort, report says

Tesla hired a PR firm to monitor an employee Facebook group amid unionization effort, report says
Elon Musk.Patrick Pleul/AP
  • Tesla hired a PR firm to monitor employee conversations on social media, CNBC reported.
  • The firm researched an employee Facebook group and union organizers during a unionization drive.

Tesla kept a close watch on some employees' social media moves as they attempted to form a union at the automaker's Fremont, California, factory in 2017 and 2018, CNBC reported Thursday.

During the organizing push, Elon Musk's automaker paid MWW, a PR consultancy, to monitor an employee Facebook group and research union organizers on social media, CNBC reported, citing invoices and other documents it obtained.

MWW also scanned social media platforms for conversations about Tesla and the unionization drive, while producing communication plans and strategies based on the research, CNBC said.

Tesla and MWW did not immediately return Insider's requests for comment.

In a statement to CNBC, MWW said it's normal for companies to monitor chatter on social media.


"MWW consulted with Tesla in 2017-2018 on a broad employee communications engagement during a period of rapid growth at the Company. It is a common practice to review media coverage and public social conversation about a company to gain insights into issues and perceptions of stakeholders about the brand," a spokesperson said.

It isn't out of the ordinary for companies facing a union push to surveil both in-person and online conversations among employees, Arthur Wheaton, an expert on the auto industry and labor relations at Cornell University, told Insider. Those types of practices could cross a line into a violation of labor law if a company actively discouraged organizing or retaliated against employees based on their pro-union activity.

"There is a difference between being unethical and being illegal," Wheaton said. "To have Tesla monitoring social media for the people that they suspected were part of a union, or to look out for any union activity, does not really surprise me."

Musk has publicly aired his disdain for unions in the past — and Tesla was previously caught illegally suppressing organizing efforts.

In 2017, Tesla fired union activist Richard Ortiz and was later ordered by the National Labor Relations Board to offer him his job back and pay him for lost earnings. In 2018, Musk tweeted that employees who joined a union would give up stock options. The government later ordered him to delete the tweet.


Tesla has also faced allegations throughout the years that it created a hostile workplace. An Insider analysis identified 46 lawsuits in which Tesla employees claimed they faced harassment based on their gender or race.

Are you a current or former Tesla employee with a story to share? Contact this reporter at tlevin@insider.com