Elon Musk has been ordered to delete a tweet from 2018 that suggested workers at Tesla would lose their stock options if they unionized. The federal appeals court’s decision is a victory for the National Labor Relations Board and a blow to Tesla, which has long opposed efforts by workers to unionize. The ruling also puts Musk in the awkward position of having to retract one of his incendiary tweets after he became the owner of Twitter. Musk has argued that the tweet was protected by the First Amendment right to free speech, but the labor board ruled that it violated labor law.
The case began with allegations filed in 2017 by the United Auto Workers union. The labor board ruled that Tesla had repeatedly violated U.S. law, including by firing a union activist. The company was ordered to reinstate the advocate, Richard Ortiz, with back pay. The ruling allows companies to express negative predictions about the consequences of unionizing but bars them from threatening to punish employees for doing so. Tesla argued that “reasonable” workers would not have read Musk’s tweet as a retaliatory threat.
The ruling is the latest in a series of controversies involving Musk’s use of social media. In 2018, he was fined $40 million by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over tweets about taking Tesla private. As part of the agreement, he agreed to have a Tesla lawyer approve his social media posts on certain topics. In 2022, a judge rejected Musk’s request to be freed from the oversight, which has become known as his “Twitter Sitter.”
Musk’s opposition to unions has been a source of friction with the Biden administration, with Musk accusing President Joe Biden of being controlled by unions. He has aligned himself with Republicans on polarizing cultural issues. In a separate case, Musk won a 2019 jury trial over defamation claims by a British cave diver whom he called a “pedo guy” on Twitter.