Tesla to get quantity plates again in blow to Swedish union staff

Tesla sued the Swedish Transport Agency and the country’s postal service yesterday in an attempt to squash the biggest strike the American carmaker has ever faced anywhere in the world. 

Just hours after the lawsuits were filed, a court in Norrköping, where one of Tesla’s service centers is based, ruled in favour of Elon Musk’s car company — the latest twist in the month-long union action. 

But first, a bit of context. 

Postal workers across Sweden are currently refusing to handle Tesla-related mail and deliveries in a show of solidarity with mechanics who are seeking more security in their employment contracts with the EV-maker. This blockade has prevented number plates from the Swedish Transport Agency being delivered to new Teslas, as current regulations say they can only be delivered via the Swedish postal service. 

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The suits Tesla filed were to pressure the agency to allow it to collect number plates for new vehicles directly rather than have to receive them via post. In a separate action, the firm sued the postal service to allow it to collect all the plates currently in their possession.

Now, in line with the court order, the Swedish Transport Agency has seven days to allow the automaker to collect the number plates directly or face a fine of of 1 million Swedish crowns ($95,000).

“We are pleased that with this decision, Tesla can continue to deliver new cars to our customers,” the automaker said in a statement to the Financial Times.  

Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, previously wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that the number plate blockade was “insane”.

The suits signal an escalation in the battle between Tesla and Swedish workers that has ensued for over a month now — and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. 

How did we get here?

About 130 mechanics at seven Tesla-owned repair shops in Sweden downed tools last month after the automaker refused their request for a collective bargaining agreement. The Nordic country doesn’t have laws that set working conditions such as a minimum wage, so instead workers rely on these bargaining contracts — which Tesla have consistently refused to grant.   

Frustrated, industrial workers’ union IF Metall went on strike on October 27, in an action that has quickly escalated. Dockworkers, car dealers, and the postal service have since refused to work with the US brand in a show of solidarity with the mechanics. Workers at a Swedish supplier of critical components for the Tesla Model Y also joined the walkout. The strike action now threatens to spill over into other EU states. 

Musk has long been opposed to unionisation, and has so far managed to avoid issuing collective bargaining agreements in all the countries where Tesla operates. However, in Sweden such agreements are the standard way almost all businesses operate, so the workers discontent is understandable. 

Seko, a Swedish trade union, said that it viewed the lawsuits “as a sign that Tesla has not been able to circumvent our sympathy action.”

Sympathy actions, where workers from other employers down tools in solidarity, are legal in Sweden, but not in many of the other countries where Tesla operates, including Germany, where it has a gigafactory. 

For Seko, and the workers, “there is an easy way for Tesla to solve this, and that is to sign a collective agreement with IF Metall,” it said.

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