German Union Reacts to Tesla Hiring of Mercedes-Benz Chief

Tesla has hired the head of a Mercedes-Benz factory in Germany for its Gigafactory Berlin project after firing its old chief. Normally, this would be considered just an ordinary case of someone taking a job with another company. However, a local German union seems intent on raising a flap about the matter.

At the center of the flap is a manager named René Reif, who left Mercedes-Benz in October. Although it has not yet been confirmed that he is taking charge of the Gigafactory that is still under construction, the German automobile industry union IG Metall seems to believe that he is. The timing of his hiring, so soon after the firing of Gigafactory Berlin chief Evan Horetsky, seems to support this assertion.

It’s been rumored that the Mercedes-Benz factory in Marienfelde, which is near Berlin, will go through a restructuring that could cost up to 2,500 union jobs. Although it would be logical to assume that Tesla has very limited, if any, influence over Mercedes-Benz’s business decisions, IG Metall seems intent on placing the blame on Tesla and Reif’s decision to move over to a competitor. It has even gone so far as to organize a rally outside the Mercedes-Benz factory.

A managing director for the union, Jan Otto, said of the move:

“We cannot build the future with soulless managers like this. We don’t understand why such a traditional and innovative car manufacturer like the Daimler group wants to capitulate to its American competitor. We want to shape the future in the factory. We are in talks with state politicians about this. … We will make it clear that we see the change in the plant manager as a betrayal, it is questionable whether we have not been lied to the whole time.”

It is unclear what goals the union have for discussing the move with local politicians. If IG Metall puts political pressure on the local government to investigate the matter, the investigation may simply find that Tesla did nothing illegal or unethical by hiring a new manager for Gigafactory Berlin. Such a thing could come with a rebuke against the union for interfering with the employment practices of a company that it does not have a presence in.

Politicians may also be unwilling to put thousands of jobs at stake by making Tesla feel unwelcome in Germany. They may have seen with Amazon’s decision to pull the plug on a planned headquarters in New York City that American companies are not always receptive to criticism from policymakers.

This is not Tesla’s first scrap with IG Metall. It previously managed to fend off the union’s attempt to interfere with the acquisition of Grohmann Engineering in 2017 by offering a salary increase to its employees.

On the flip side, Tesla has developed something of a reputation for being anti-union in the United States by resisting efforts by its employees to unionize. Tesla has occasionally been censored by regulatory bodies like the National Labor Relations Board for anti-union activities.

In a rational world, IG Metall’s attack on a simple hiring decision made by Tesla would go nowhere, especially considering that the union lashed out at Reif by lumping him in with “soulless managers” for his simple move from Mercedes-Benz to Tesla, which may have had nothing to do with the union at all.