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Workers in Sweden Will Expand Strike Against Tesla

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Unions across Sweden said on Tuesday that they would support an effort to pressure Tesla to sign a collective bargaining agreement with its 120 mechanics, joining a campaign to defend a model of organized labor that many Swedes say is essential to the country’s economic success and stability.

Dockworkers said they would expand their blockade of the automaker’s shipment to all ports in Sweden next week, after launching the action at four key locations. The electricians’ union said its members would stop servicing Tesla charging stations when they needed a repair, and maintenance workers said they wouldn’t clean Tesla facilities.

On Monday, the IF Metall trade union, which represents 300,000 workers across the country including the Tesla mechanics, said its talks with company representatives had ended without resolution. The union began the strike action at Tesla’s 12 service centers on Oct. 27.

Tesla, which entered Sweden in 2013, did not respond to requests for comment. The company told Sweden’s TT News Agency that it followed Swedish labor market rules but had chosen not to sign a collective agreement.

“It is unfortunate that IF Metall has taken these measures,” Tesla told TT in an emailed statement. “We already offer equivalent or better agreements than those covered by collective bargaining and find no reason to sign any other agreement.”

Tesla also said it was committed to “remaining available to our customers” during the strike.

That appeared to be the case on Tuesday at a Tesla facility in a suburb of Stockholm, where customers were dropping off and picking up their cars and mechanics were seen coming and going. They declined to speak with a reporter.

IF Metall has said it believes that Tesla has hired outside workers to replace striking employees, but this could not be independently confirmed. “We know that Tesla has people who are not part of the ordinary work force working in some locations,” said Jesper Pettersson, the union’s spokesman.

Some Tesla owners arriving to have their cars serviced appeared to be nonplused by the labor actions.

“It should be up to the company” whether it signs a collective bargaining agreement, said Karin Bjarle, 42, an e-commerce entrepreneur who had the bulbs in her headlight replaced.

The unions supporting IF Metall’s cause said they were trying not only to improve working conditions for mechanics employed by Tesla but to defend Sweden’s longstanding system of organized labor, in which employers and employees work together to reach consensus on wages, benefits and working hours. Such agreements cover about 90 percent of workers in Sweden.

“If we let this go, it puts a crack in the whole system,” said Tommy Wreeth, head of the Swedish Transport Workers’ Union, who went to Sodertalje Harbor, south of Stockholm, to rally union members around the blockade against Tesla.

“This isn’t just about the metalworkers’ and transport workers’ unions,” he said. “This is important because the whole Swedish model is at stake.”

The transport union said last week that it would refuse to unload any Teslas arriving by ship to four large Swedish ports beginning Tuesday. After it learned that Tesla was rerouting shipments to other ports, the union said, it expanded its job action to block such shipments to all Swedish ports starting Nov. 17 unless an agreement is reached.

On Tuesday it was unclear if any shipments of Teslas were scheduled to arrive or were turned away at the ports. Mans Frostell, chief executive of Sodertalje Port, said Sodertalje received an average of 1,200 cars a week; there were no Tesla cars in this week’s shipment.

Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, has repeatedly pushed back against calls to unionize by his 127,000 employees around the world. But IF Metall and its supporters argue that Tesla’s employees lack the annual wage increases, insurance and pension coverage, and other benefits they would receive if they were under an industrywide collective agreement.

“Tesla must accept the rules of the Swedish labor market, and in Sweden we use collective agreements,” said Mikael Pettersson, head of negotiations at Elektrikerna, the electricians’ union.

Elektrikerna said its members would not provide any servicing or repairs at Tesla’s 213 charging stations across Sweden starting Nov. 17. “If something breaks, no one will fix it,” the union said in a statement.

Cleaning staff at Tesla’s facilities in the Stockholm area and one in Umea in northern Sweden will also start staying home from their jobs on that date, the Swedish Building Maintenance Workers’ Union said.

Not only unions are joining in the action. Taxi Stockholm, which advertises its adherence to the collective agreement system, said it would cease all new orders of Teslas for its fleet.

“It’s good they’re taking these actions,” said Jesper Nordgaard, 29, a member of the transport union who works at the port of Sodertalje. “My question is why didn’t they do it sooner?”

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