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NLRB strikes down Tesla uniform policy

Tesla showroom (ifeelstock/Deposit Photos)

The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that Tesla cannot stop factory employees from wearing clothing with union insignia while on the job.

The board, in a 3-2 decision, overruled a 2019 NLRB decision involving Walmart and union clothing.

A 1945 U.S. Supreme Court decision established the precedent for allowing the clothing, according to the board’s decision. It ordered Tesla to stop enforcing an “overly broad” uniform policy that effectively stops production workers at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory from wearing black shirts with the union logo of the United Auto Workers.

The board said that, by ruling against Tesla, it reaffirmed a longstanding precedent that it is “presumptively unlawful” for employers to restrict union clothing without special circumstances that justify the ban.

The board majority determined that Tesla failed to establish any special circumstances that would allow banning the UAW clothing.

“The board reaffirms that any attempt to restrict the wearing of union clothing or insignia is presumptively unlawful and — consistent with Supreme Court precedent — an employer has a heightened burden to justify attempts to limit this important right,” Chairman Lauren McFerran said in a statement.

In the ruling, the NLRB wrote that Tesla had a policy requiring “team wear” for production workers that included black cotton shirts with the Tesla logo and black cotton pants with no buttons, rivets or exposed zippers. Tesla provided clothing for the workers.

During a UAW organizing campaign in the spring of 2017, some production workers began wearing black cotton shirts with a small union logo on the front and a larger one on the back. Before August 2017, workers often wore shirts that were not black or had logos that were not related to Tesla. But at that time, the company began to strictly enforce the team-wear policy, the NLRB wrote.

On Aug. 10, 2017, supervisors threatened to send two workers home for wearing union clothing, the board wrote. Tesla did allow workers to wear union stickers on the required clothing.