Elon Musk has been ordered by a US federal appeals court to delete an infamous 2018 Twitter post that contained a thinly veiled threat to Tesla workers who considered forming an union.

The 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, Louisiana, ruled on March 31 that the billionaire must delete the tweet that suggested Tesla workers could lose stock options if they unionized and joined the UAW (United Auto Workers).

The decision is a blow to Tesla, which has categorically opposed the UAW's efforts to unionize the EV maker's workers; at the same time, it's a victory for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The NLRB is an independent federal agency that protects the rights of most private sector employees to join together, with or without a union, to improve their wages and working conditions.

As Automotive News reports, the ruling also puts Musk in the awkward position of having to retract one of his many controversial tweets after becoming the owner of Twitter.

The tweet that made the object of the court ruling said: "Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues and give up stock options for nothing?"


The NLRB had ruled that Tesla repeatedly broke US law, including by firing a union activist, and directed the company to ensure that its CEO's threatening tweet is deleted from his feed. In response, Tesla has argued that the tweet was protected by the First Amendment guarantee of free speech.

Besides ordering Musk to delete the tweet, the federal court also ruled that Tesla must reinstate union advocate Richard Ortiz with back pay. The company had argued that he was terminated for lying in an investigation about his misconduct.  

In a statement released by the UAW, Ortiz said his "rights were finally vindicated," and said he would pick up where he left off when it comes to unionizing efforts. "I look forward to returning to work at Tesla and working with my co-workers to finish the job of forming a union," he said.

According to US labor law, companies are allowed to express negative predictions on the consequences of unionizing, but bars them from threatening to punish employees for doing so. The NLRB lacks the authority to make companies pay punitive damages for violations, or to hold executives personally liable.

As of April 3, 2023 at 6 am EDT, Elon Musk's tweet hadn't been deleted.

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