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Let’s take back power from Elon Musk and Amazon. They are undermining worker rights.

Let’s take back power from Elon Musk and Amazon. They are undermining worker rights.
Opinion BY LORENA GONZÁLEZ | SPECIAL TO THE SACRAMENTO BEE APRIL 09, 2024 

Positive change is happening in the workplace as workers are organizing unions in bookstores, coffee shops, auto factories and hotels. They are walking off the job to demand dignity and respect, and holding the line until the companies give in. As a labor leader, it is a beautiful thing to see young people finding hope in this movement and exercising their power. 

So what does Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, do following this surge in worker organizing? He files a lawsuit in Texas federal court alleging the National Labor Relations Board is unconstitutional. The board, which has been charged with protecting a workers’ right to organize and negotiate for better wages and working conditions for nearly 100 years, has shown new life under the Biden Administration.

Of course, Musk has his reasons for doing so. This legal action came shortly after eight engineers at his SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne signed an open letter citing allegations of sexual harassment and discriminatory public statements by Musk, SpaceX’s CEO. The employees also city the failure of SpaceX’s human resources department to enforce its anti-harassment policies. 

Instead of addressing their letter, the workers say SpaceX responded by firing them for drafting and circulating it to coworkers. They filed unfair labor practices with the board, and, shortly after, Musk and SpaceX filed suit. 

There’s nothing new about billionaire CEOs trying to stop their workers from engaging in collective action. We are used to them relying on the courts to evade accountability. The irony here is that the company seeking to dismantle a public agency is one that has benefited significantly from taking public funds. 

Musk’s companies — SpaceX, Tesla and Solar City — have received billions in state and federal subsidies, loans and contracts. Tesla alone has benefited from $3.2 billion in direct and indirect subsidies from California taxpayers since 2009. 

Meanwhile, Amazon has filed their own copycat lawsuit against the National Labor Relations Board. Again, Amazon and their subsidiaries are some of the biggest beneficiaries of government contracts. (Starbucks and Trader Joe’s have also joined the legal fight to have the board declared unconstitutional.) 

Workers are rising up right now because we face unprecedented income inequality. Our economy is producing more and more billionaires, and yet it’s getting harder and harder for workers to survive — to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Wealth is concentrated at the top, and corporations have decided they don’t have to share. 

To fight income inequality, we must take a hard look at where our taxpayer money is going and what we’re asking for in return. 

Rather than give away public money with no strings attached, we should be demanding that corporations agree to create good-paying jobs. Public assistance should require policies that benefit neglected communities and regions, like local hire and community benefit agreements. Government simply must stop subsidizing companies that commit wage theft or engage in union busting when workers try to organize. 

The Biden Administration is investing billions of dollars in clean energy and infrastructure jobs in California. We have the opportunity to make sure that every one of those jobs has family-sustaining wages, healthcare and a pension. That will only happen if we take action to require labor standards for these funds and on all our state tax credits.

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