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Tesla’s clash with Swedish workers risks spilling over into a regional fight

Danish dockworkers and drivers are threatening to stop transporting Teslas to neighboring Sweden if the carmaker does not reach a deal with striking Swedish workers within two weeks.

Denmark’s 3F labor union said the planned “sympathy strike” is aimed at putting extra pressure on a Tesla (TSLA) subsidiary to recognize Swedish labor union IF Metall, which would enable collective bargaining over wages and other terms of employment.

It is the first time a labor union outside of Sweden has threatened industrial action against Tesla in solidarity with the Swedish workers.

“IF Metall and the Swedish workers are fighting an incredibly important battle right now. When they ask for our support, we are of course behind them,” said Jan Villadsen, chairman of 3F’s transport division.

“Just like companies, the trade union movement is global in the fight to protect workers.”

In October, mechanics servicing Tesla’s cars in Sweden, represented by IF Metall, began their ongoing strike after their employer, the Tesla subsidiary, announced that it would not recognize the union, according to Expressen, a CNN affiliate. About 120 mechanics are on strike, IF Metall told CNN Tuesday.

“This is about good wages, good pensions and good insurance for all our members who work at Tesla,” IF Metall said on its website.

“We have been negotiating with Tesla for a long time. They have refused to sign a collective agreement and violate basic principles in the Swedish labor market.”

The industrial action soon spread to Swedish dockworkers, who started blocking deliveries of Teslas at the country’s ports, electricians who stopped maintenance work for the carmaker, and other workers in Sweden, Expressen reported.

On Tuesday, the spokesperson for Denmark’s 3F, said its dockworkers and drivers would not handle Teslas destined for Sweden, referring to “speculation” that the carmaker would try to circumvent the Swedish port blockade by shipping its vehicles to Danish ports for onward delivery via truck.

Such a workaround “is no longer possible,” the union spokesperson said.

CNN has contacted Tesla for comment.

Nordic solidarity

Unions representing dockworkers in Finland and Norway are also discussing taking action in solidarity with the striking Swedish mechanics, Anu Hietala, general secretary of the Stockholm-based Nordic Transport Workers’ Federation, told CNN Tuesday.

The escalating dispute underscores the challenge Tesla faces in the Nordics, where collective bargaining agreements are the norm. About nine out of 10 workers in Sweden and more than eight in 10 in Denmark are covered by such agreements.

But Tesla CEO Elon Musk — the world’s richest man — has made no secret of his disdain for unions.

“I disagree with the idea of unions,” he said during an interview with the New York Times last week. “I just don’t like anything which creates kind of a lords and peasants sort of thing.”

“I think the unions naturally try to create negativity in a company,” he added.

At least three attempts to organize by Tesla workers in the United States have failed, mainly as a consequence of aggressive tactics by the company and weak protections for labor in the country.

Villadsen, of Denmark’s 3F, said companies “have to comply” with the Nordic tradition of collective bargaining if they wanted to do business in the region.

“Even if you are one of the richest people in the world, you can’t just make your own rules,” he said.

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