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Germany’s biggest auto union questions Elon Musk’s authority to give a return-to-office ultimatum: ‘An employer cannot dictate the rules just as he likes’

Elon Musk, Tesla CEO, stands on a stage at the Tesla Gigafactory for the open day in Grünheide, east of Berlin.

Patrick Pleul/picture alliance via Getty Images

  • German union IG Metall questioned Elon Musk’s authority to force workers to return to the office.
  • Tesla’s Berlin Gigafactory began shipping out cars in March and is tripling its workforce.
  • Last week, the Tesla CEO reportedly told executives to work 40 hour per week in the office or quit.

Germany’s largest trade union pushed back against Elon Musk’s return-to-office ultimatum for employees that work from home.

Last week, in a leaked companywide email, Musk told Tesla executives they must return to the office for a minimum of 40 hours a week or resign. Musk said on Twitter that the decision was part of an effort to promote equality between factory workers — who have been required to come to work in person throughout the pandemic — and executives.

IG Metall told Reuters in a statement that it would support any worker in Germany who did not wish to comply with Musk’s demand. The union — which recently opened an office near Tesla’s new Berlin-Brandenburg factory —  represents about 2.3 million German workers in the manufacturing industry, including some Tesla workers, according to Reuters.

“Whoever does not agree with such one-sided demands and wants to stand against them has the power of unions behind them in Germany, as per law,” Birgit Dietze, the district leader for IG Metall in Brandenburg Sachsen, told the publication. A spokesperson for the union did not respond to Insider’s request for comment ahead of publication.

In February, Tesla workers elected 19 people to the company’s first works council a month before the new gigafactory opened. In Germany, a works council functions as an organization that can advocate for workers at a local level, separately from a union. Typically representatives for the council are elected every two to four years. 

IG Metall questioned Musk’s authority to bring workers back into the office in a statement to Fortune.

“In Germany an employer cannot dictate the rules just as he likes,” Dietze said. “A worker can rely on the strength and power of her or his union if she or he does not want to accept the demands of the company.”

Historically, Musk has spoken out against unionization efforts at Tesla. Earlier this year, the billionaire appeared to taunt the United Auto Workers Union (UAW) by tweeting a video of workers dissing the UAW. 

Tesla workers in the US sought to unionize in 2017, but reportedly faced backlash from the electric-car maker. Last year, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Tesla and Musk “unlawfully threatened” workers hoping to unionize. The group said Tesla “interrogated” employees involved in the effort and ordered Musk to delete a tweet it deemed “anti-union.” 

Last week, recruiters at major tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft put out calls to Musk’s employees who might be looking to dodge his return-to-work edict. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen executives have echoed the sentiment.  IG Metall also represents workers for BMW and Volkswagen.

“We have a fundamentally different view on creating an attractive working environment, and stand for empowerment and personal responsibility in our teams to balance the ratio of mobile and in-person work,” Gunnar Kilian, a Volkswagen board member responsible for human resources, told Fortune.

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