Robert Reich Says Elon Musk Blocked Him on Twitter As He Calls Out Tesla's Treatment of Workers

A Twitter clash between Elon Musk and former labor secretary Robert Reich has escalated after the Tesla boss was accused of mistreating workers.

A war of words broke out on Wednesday as Reich characterized the billionaire CEO as a "modern-day robber baron" for amassing a net worth of $100 billion after cutting staff wages by 10 percent earlier this year due to ongoing the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response, Musk called Reich a "moron" and defended his company, saying: "All Tesla workers also get stock, so their compensation increased proportionately."

Now, in comments to Newsweek, Reich has detailed why he felt his words were justified, hitting out at the carmaker for his response mentioning stock compensation.

He said: "Musk makes a big deal about giving workers shares of stock in the firm. What he doesn't say is he's threatened to take away the stock if workers exercise their legal right to form a union, which, I might add, is itself an unfair labor practice."

"For years, Tesla workers have complained about high injury rates as a result of the company making them work long hours on machinery that isn't safe.

"They've also complained about low wages—Tesla employees are paid less than other employees in the auto industry," Reich continued. "Not incidentally, Tesla is the only large U.S. automaker without a unionized workforce..."

His comments broadly echoed a response posted on Twitter Thursday, where he listed a series of accusations previously made against Tesla executives, including that they tried to disrupt a union being formed by staff of the plant in Fremont, California.

Last year, an administrative judge in California ruled Musk and executives had violated federal labor laws in attempts to stop employees from organizing.

Musk was criticized by the judge in the legal filing for seemingly threatening employees with loss of stock options if they formed a union via his personal Twitter account.

In May 2018, the CEO published several anti-union posts on the website, including one that read: "Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing?"

"Musk's tweet can only be read by a reasonable employee to indicate that if employees vote to unionize that they would give up stock options. Musk threatened to take away a benefit enjoyed by employees consequently for voting to unionize," the judge said.

In 2017, factory worker and pro-union employee Jose Moran published a blog post that detailed long working hours, preventable injuries and production crunch. He said Tesla workers were earning $17 and $21 hourly, less than the average auto worker.

"We need better organization in the plant, and I, along with many of my coworkers, believe we can achieve that by coming together and forming a union," he wrote. Musk later suggested the worker was a union plant, Buzzfeed reported.

Several employees told The Guardian in September 2018 that Tesla bosses would often take steps to terminate the jobs of pro-union workers. "There's a culture of fear because if you don't comply, you will be fired," one employee told the paper.

Reich, who is now Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, said on Twitter yesterday that it was a "problem" Musk was making so much money during a pandemic, when tens of millions of people are facing eviction.

But it's unclear if his messages will be heard. "The modern-day robber baron blocked me, otherwise I'd reply to him directly," Reich wrote on Twitter, referencing Musk.

In the past month, a rally on Tesla stock meant Musk's net worth soared to over $100 billion, at one point making him the third-richest person in the world by surpassing Facebook's founder Mark Zuckerberg. Tesla has been contacted for comment.

Robert Reich
Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich testifies before the Joint Economic Committee January 16, 2014 in Washington, DC. Reich joined a panel testifying on the topic of "Income Inequality in the United States. Reich has now clashed with Tesla boss Elon Musk. Win McNamee/Getty