Tesla sues Swedish government after worker rebellion cripples car biz

Sparks fly as Elon's Musketeers sue for license plate liberation

Updated Tesla is suing the Swedish government to force it to take action against widespread strikes that have crippled the electric car maker's operations. 

Tesla sued the Swedish Transport Agency Monday after employees affiliated with Sweden's public service union, Fackförbundent ST, stopped delivering mail, including license plates, to Tesla, local news sources reported Monday. 

In Sweden, all license plates for new vehicles are delivered through Postnord, Sweden's postal agency, meaning the blockade prevents newly-purchased Teslas from becoming road legal. 

"This confiscation of license plates constitutes a discriminatory attack without any support in law directed at Tesla," the automaker reportedly said. "Tesla demands that the district court obliges the Swedish Transport Agency to ensure that registration plates for the vehicles owned by Tesla … come into Tesla's possession," Elon's Musketeers requested. 

For those unfamiliar with the strike that kicked off ST and other union's sympathy actions, the fracas began in late October with Swedish labor union IF Metall, which represents industrial workers in automotive industries, among others. Tesla has refused to deal with the local union and so staff went on strike on October 27, and other workers have been helping them out. 

"Tesla is good at green conversion, but now also needs to ensure sustainability for the employees. They do this by signing a collective agreement," IF Metall said in a discussion of its reasons for striking.

Tesla is digging itself a EU-sized labor hole

Swedish labor rights are incredibly strong, with white-collar trade group Unionen estimating some 70 percent of workers in the country are members of one of Sweden's many trade unions.

The government stays largely uninvolved in matters between unions and employers, meaning much of the labor market is controlled through agreements between employers and employees and not by state regulators, who only intervene in extreme cases. 

As part of "the Swedish model," sympathy actions - known as sympatiåtgärd - like ST's blockade on delivering mail to Tesla, are entirely legal. That said, ST isn't the only union to have announced sympathy action in support of IF Metall's Tesla strike

The Swedish Transport Workers Union has been blockading ports across Sweden and refusing to load or unload Tesla vehicles from arriving ships since November 17, as has the Harbor Workers Union. 

Real estate, painters and builders unions have all announced sympathy actions as well, and the Service and Communications Union has also announced a blockade action in support of ST's mail delivery strike.

The Electricians' Union, meanwhile, has issued several notices that largely mean they won't touch damaged Tesla chargers or deal with electrical issues at Tesla facilities. If the union issue isn't resolved by December 1, electricians said they'll also cease working on transformer stations and feeder lines connecting to Tesla charging stations.

Most critically, however, was an announcement last week from Norwegian firm Hydro Extrusions. The company, which manufactures components for Tesla vehicles at a factory in Vetlanda, Sweden, said it would cease production of Tesla components on Friday.

"[Hydro Extrusions] delivers components to Tesla's factory in Berlin, and if this causes disruption to them we hope to force them back to the negotiation table," IF Metall negotiation secretary Veli-Pekka Saikkala told Automotive News Europe Friday. Per Saikkala, Hydro Extrusions is the only European manufacturer of the Tesla components it produces, meaning the Swedish strike's reach could soon affect operations at the company's German gigafactory, taking the strike international. 

Whether the move would cause Tesla to cave is unclear - it didn't respond to questions. Owner Elon Musk last week called the sympathy strikes "insane" in a post to X, his personal social media platform. ®

Updated at 13.38 UTC on November 28, 2023, to add:

Anna Berggrund, director of Department of Vehicle Information told The Reg, via email: “We can confirm the information that a lawsuit has been submitted to the district court by Tesla.

“The Swedish Transport Agency has now received an interim decision from the Norrköping district court to consent within 7 days to Tesla collecting license plates directly from our sign manufacturer. It appears from the decision that our sign manufacturer has announced that it is prepared to provide the signs directly to Tesla, provided that the Swedish Transport Agency agrees to this. We at the Swedish Transport Agency now need to analyze the announcement and assess what consequences this has for us and what measures might need to be taken to implement the decision. It is currently too early to say exactly what that would mean."

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