More than a week after Tesla mechanics in Sweden went on strike to force the U.S. automaker to agree to a collective bargaining agreement, union officials announced that Tesla representatives would meet with the union on Monday.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
Tesla does not make cars in Sweden and the country is a relatively small market for the automaker. But the pressure exerted by dozens of mechanics is starting to bear fruit. Dockworkers at the country’s four largest ports announced Tuesday that they would stop unloading Tesla ships to support the strikers.
The IF Metall union has for years called on the automaker to begin negotiations on adopting a collective agreement that would set the basis for salaries and benefits for the approximately 120 mechanics employed by Tesla to work at its service facilities in Sweden . Around 90 percent of all Swedish workers are covered by such agreements.
Since the union called a strike on October 27, dozens of union mechanics have stayed home, disrupting service appointments for some Tesla drivers. Not all union members participated, said Jesper Pettersson, a spokesman for IF Metall, acknowledging that some service facilities appeared largely unaffected.
“It’s not an easy thing to strike,” he added.
But this action, combined with the threat of involvement from other unions, appears to be enough to force Tesla to the negotiating table. A meeting between union and company representatives was scheduled for Monday, Petterson said.
Despite its relatively small size, Sweden has the third-largest global share of electric vehicle sales, at 32 percent, after Norway and Iceland, according to the World Resources Institute, a research organization. Tesla enjoys a growing fan base and its Model Y, a German-made sport utility vehicle, was the best-selling electric vehicle in Sweden this year.
Tesla owner Elon Musk has resisted efforts to unionize Tesla workers for years and threatened in 2018 to compensate U.S. employees seeking to join a union (a statement that was later found to be contrary to labor law).
German Bender, a labor market analyst at Arena, a Stockholm think tank, said Tesla could “see this small conflict in Sweden as presenting a risk of contagion to other markets.”
In Germany, IG Metall, a union affiliated with IF Metall in Sweden, is seeking to organize the Tesla factory in Grünheide, near Berlin.
And in the United States, on the heels of significant gains in wages and benefits won by the United Automobile Workers union after a six-week strike wave at Detroit’s Big Three automakers, union leaders threw their sights on American Tesla workers as part of a broader campaign to organize non-union factories across the United States.
The power of the trade union movement in Sweden is considerable. About 70 percent of the country’s workforce is unionized, and Swedish law allows solidarity strikes to support the efforts of other unions.
This happened in 1995, when another well-known American company started operations in Sweden. Toys “R” Us was unwilling to agree to a collective bargaining agreement, and its retail workers in Sweden went on strike. Although the company employs only 80 people nationwide, other unions have rallied to their cause, including postal, transportation and municipal workers who have disrupted mail delivery and trash removal . After three months, the company signed an agreement.
In support of IF Metall, the Swedish transport workers’ union said that from midday on Tuesday, dockworkers would no longer unload Tesla cars.
“When IF Metall asks for Transport’s support, it is both important and obvious that we help defend the collective agreement and the Swedish labor market model,” the transport workers’ union said.
IF Metall has not requested support from any other unions, pending the outcome of Monday’s negotiations, Pettersson said.
Sweden relies on collective agreements between employers and unions within each industrial sector to set basic conditions of employment.
Under the deal sought by IF Metall, Tesla workers would benefit from a broader insurance program, guaranteed training for transitioning to another job if theirs is eliminated, and pay increases annual, the union said. Even workers who are not unionized are covered by collective agreements.
Foreign-based companies aren’t the only ones hesitant to support the country’s century-old model of collective bargaining agreements. Some local companies, like buy-now giant Klarna and streaming provider Spotify, have pushed back, citing the need to remain flexible and nimble in a rapidly changing technology sector.
After eight months of negotiations, two of the unions representing Klarna employees had threatened to walk out next week. They managed to reach an agreement Friday evening, avoiding a strike, the company said.