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Tesla sues Swedish state in effort to circumvent union action

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Tesla is suing the Swedish state and the country’s postal service in an attempt to circumvent strikes and union action that have crippled its operations in the Scandinavian country.

The carmaker is suing the Swedish Transport Agency to allow it to collect registration plates for new vehicles directly rather than have to receive them via post — which postal workers have been blocking in a sympathy action with striking Tesla workshop mechanics, a move Tesla’s chief executive Elon Musk has called “insane”.

The lawsuit, filed with Norrköping district court on Monday, demanded that “the registration plates for the vehicles that Tesla owns . . . come into Tesla’s possession”, according to a copy seen by the Financial Times.

It is also suing PostNord, urging the Solna district court to order the release of all parcels addressed to the carmaker. 

The lawsuits are an escalation of Tesla’s anger with the Swedish strike and a broadening number of sympathy actions taken by other workers that is increasingly hurting the electric-car maker’s business there.

About 130 mechanics in Sweden, who belong to the IF Metall union, went on strike last month after Tesla turned down their request for collective bargaining.

Swedish unions argue that Tesla needs to sign a collective agreement as almost all businesses in the country do, meaning that wages and working conditions are set jointly in negotiations between unions and employer organisations.

Postal workers who deliver spare parts and registration plates, cleaners who clean Tesla’s dealerships, and dockworkers unloading their cars have all since refused to work with the US brand. 

Musk is a staunch critic of unionisation, and has managed to avoid collective bargaining in its global operations, including in Germany where it opened a factory.

Tesla has no manufacturing in Sweden but the strike is starting to have an impact after a factory that manufactures parts for Tesla stopped production on Friday in sympathy with the strikes. 

Unlike in Germany and many other countries, such sympathy actions are allowed in Sweden. 

The Swedish Transport Agency has a contract with PostNord, partially owned by the Swedish state, to deliver all its mail and has said it cannot send it with an alternative company. 

Tesla, which wants to collect the registration plates directly from the transport agency, called its actions “a discriminatory attack” that was “deeply damaging”. The lawsuit added: “This measure cannot be described in any other way than as a unique attack on a company operating in Sweden.”

It added that PostNord’s actions not to deliver the plates were a “targeted and unlawful attack” on Tesla. 

The Swedish Transport Agency said it had not yet received the lawsuit but added: “We do not share Tesla’s view.”

In its lawsuit against PostNord, Tesla accused the postal service PostNord for acting against the constitution, arguing that the sympathy action by postal workers went against the company’s obligation to fulfil the “socially important” task of delivering the mail. 

Seko, the Swedish trade union that includes postal workers, said that it viewed the lawsuit “as a sign that Tesla has not been able to circumvent our sympathy action”.

It added: “There is an easy way for Tesla to solve this, and that is to sign a collective agreement with IF Metall.”

News of the lawsuit was first reported by Swedish daily Dagens Industri. 

PostNord and Tesla did not immediately respond to requests for comment. 

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