When Tesla bought a decommissioned car factory in Fremont, California, Elon Musk transformed the old-fashioned, unionized plant into a much-vaunted “factory of the future”, where giant robots named after X-Men shape and fold sheets of metal inside a gleaming white mecca of advanced manufacturing.
The appetite for Musk’s electric cars, and his promise to disrupt the carbon-reliant automobile industry, has helped Tesla’s value exceed that of both Ford and, briefly, General Motors (GM). But some of the human workers who share the factory with their robotic counterparts complain of grueling pressure – which they attribute to Musk’s aggressive production goals – and sometimes life-changing injuries.
Ambulances have been called more than 100 times since 2014 for workers experiencing fainting spells, dizziness, seizures, abnormal breathing and chest pains, according to incident reports obtained by the Guardian. Hundreds more were called for injuries and other medical issues.
If only there were a way for the employees to collectively bargain for their working lives to be improved.
I’m proud to be part of a team that is bringing green cars to the masses. As a production worker at Tesla’s plant in Fremont for the past four years, I believe Tesla is one of the most innovative companies in the world. We are working hard to build the world’s #1 car?—?not just electric, but overall. Unfortunately, however, I often feel like I am working for a company of the future under working conditions of the past.
Most of my 5,000-plus coworkers work well over 40 hours a week, including excessive mandatory overtime. The hard, manual labor we put in to make Tesla successful is done at great risk to our bodies.
Preventable injuries happen often. In addition to long working hours, machinery is often not ergonomically compatible with our bodies. There is too much twisting and turning and extra physical movement to do jobs that could be simplified if workers’ input were welcomed. Add a shortage of manpower and a constant push to work faster to meet production goals, and injuries are bound to happen.
A few months ago, six out of eight people in my work team were out on medical leave at the same time due to various work-related injuries. I hear that ergonomics concerns in other departments are even more severe. Worst of all, I hear coworkers quietly say that they are hurting but they are too afraid to report it for fear of being labeled as a complainer or bad worker by management.
Many of us have been talking about unionizing, and have reached out to the United Auto Workers for support. The company has begun to respond. In November, they offered a raise to employees’ base pay?—?the first we’ve seen in a very long time.
But at the same time, management actions are feeding workers’ fears about speaking out. Recently, every worker was required to sign a confidentiality policy that threatens consequences if we exercise our right to speak out about wages and working conditions.
That is why I was so distraught when I read the recent blog post promoting the UAW, which does not share our mission and whose true allegiance is to the giant car companies, where the money they take from employees in dues is vastly more than they could ever make from Tesla.
The tactics they have resorted to are disingenuous or outright false. I will address their underhanded attacks below.
Elon, and other startup assholes, love to pretend that they are the underdogs versus giant big businesses. I don’t doubt that Ford, GM, and Chrysler would love to take Tesla’s business out by attacking it from the low and middle portions of their market for electric vehicles, but the unions are there to represent the employees and not automakers. The whole framing of his argument is flawed from that point on to Elon’s choice of adjectives like “underhanded” and “disingenuous” in describing his employee’s argument for better representation.