Tesla used PR firm to track workers on Facebook during 2017 union push: report

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Tesla used a public relations firm to monitor employees’ social media activity at a time when some were attempting unionize, according to a CNBC report.

The EV maker hired New York-based MWW PR to monitor employees “in a Facebook group and more broadly on social media” in 2017 and 2018, according to CNBC, citing invoices and unspecified documents.

The report, which has not been independently verified by The Washington Post, said MWW paid particular attention to discussions alleging unfair labor practices at Tesla and those related to a sexual harassment lawsuit. The consultancy monitored a Tesla employee Facebook group and the social media site more broadly for mentions of organizing efforts and researched specific organizers, and subsequently developed a communications plan based on that information-gathering, CNBC reported.

Elon Musk says Tesla needs to cut 10 percent of its workforce: report

Neither Tesla nor MWW immediately responded to requests for comment Friday.

CNBC said the consultancy confirmed its previous work with Tesla in a statement: “MWW consulted with Tesla in 2017-2018 on a broad employee communications engagement during a period of rapid growth at the Company. It is a common practice to review media coverage and public social conversation about a company to gain insights into issues and perceptions of stakeholders about the brand.”

It’s relatively common for companies to monitor social media mentions of their brand, as well as to contract such work to public relations and marketing firms.

But the National Labor Relations Act prohibits employers from “spying” on employees’ union activity, which the NLRB defines as “doing something out of the ordinary to observe the activity.” Observing open union activity in workplace areas frequented by supervisors would not constitute spying, according to the NLRB.

The report comes as Tesla CEO Elon Musk is attempting to buy his own social media company. In late April, he arrived at a deal to purchase Twitter for $44 billion, an acquisition he said was motivated by the platform’s status as a sort of town square that is integral to free speech.

Tesla stock was down more than 6 percent Friday after Reuters reported that Musk told executives he wanted to cut 10 percent of the automaker’s workforce.

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