Thursday, May 9, 2024

The Tesla technicians who walked off their jobs in Sweden say they still support the mission of the American company and its headline-grabbing chief executive. But they also want Tesla to accept the Swedish way of doing business. They call it the Swedish Model, a way of life that has defined the country’s economy for decades. At its heart is cooperation between employers and employees to ensure that both sides benefit from a company’s profit. Instead, four technicians who walked off their jobs on Oct. 27 said, they have been subjected to what they described as a “typical U.S. model”: six-day workweeks, unavoidable overtime and an unclear evaluation system for promotion. “Just work, work, work,” said Janis Kuzma, one of the technicians on strike. The union representing the Tesla workers, IF Metall, won’t say how many of the company’s 130 technicians have walked out — it may be only a few dozen. The company’s 10 service centers remain open. But as the strike moves into its third month, it is having an outsize impact on the Nordic region. At least 15 other unions have taken action to try to force Tesla to negotiate a collective bargaining agreement to set wages and benefits that reflect industrywide norms in Sweden. Daniel Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities, warned that the dispute was becoming “an important lightning-rod issue around unions globally” for Tesla and its chief executive, Elon Musk. Polls show a majority of Swedes support the strike, widely viewed as a defense of the country’s consensus-based way of doing business. Nine in 10 people in Sweden work under a labor agreement, and strikes are relatively rare. But as the walkout continues, questions are being raised about whether Sweden’s reliance on labor-management agreements denies businesses flexibility and agility. That divide can be seen in the reactions of some of the country’s roughly 50,000 Tesla owners, who see the walkout as a power play by a wealthy, politically influential union. Mr. Musk has pushed back against efforts by his 127,000 employees around the world to unionize. The company has declined repeated requests for comment. At a service center in Malmo this month, workers wearing Tesla shirts were busy moving cars in and out. Strikers on the picket line said some of those working appeared to be recent hires. There is talk that some Tesla owners have been unable to find anyone to change their tires for winter — essential for driving in Sweden this time of year. But fearing that the walkout has been little more than a nuisance for Tesla, IF Metall has called for support from other unions. Unions in Denmark, Norway and Finland, as well as Sweden, have rallied around IF Metall. This means dockworkers have stopped unloading Teslas arriving by ship; union members at independent repair shops have stopped servicing Teslas; postal workers have quit delivering Tesla’s mail, including license plates; and electricians have pledged to no longer repair Tesla’s charging stations.

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