EV Auto Worker Employment: Tesla Style

Tweeted picture of a car parked outside a Tesla showroom in Walnut Creek, California on Sunday.

Last Friday, The Mercury News (San Jose, California) broke the story of Tesla's mass firings.  According to it, and the follow-up Los Angeles Times story - if you ask Tesla what happened - it was poor job performance after reviews.  But, what if you ask the workers?

In multiple interviews, former and current employees told this news organization little or no warning preceded the dismissals.  The workers interviewed include trained engineers working on vehicle design and production, a supervisor and factory employees....

Some workers at the Tesla plant have been trying to organize a union.

“I had great performance reviews.  I don’t believe I was fired for performance,” said Daniel Grant, who told The Times he’s worked at Fremont factory since 2014 as a production assistant.  He suspects he was fired because he raised safety issues and supported a union drive.

“The company didn't show me or others our most recent reviews when they fired us,” Grant said.  “I would like the company to release our full reviews, including peer reviews, to us.”

The LA Times Article went on to report the comments of another fired Tesla worker...

An assembly line worker, Mike Williams, said his firing last week could not be the result of a bad performance review because, in his last review in 2016, “my supervisor had nothing but good things to say about me.”

Other fired workers were treated the same, he said.  “Our reviews were due in June.  In June they told us they would be in August.  In September they told us October.”

Williams said he received a disciplinary write-up about a year ago for playing music that contained profanity but stopped when he was ordered to.

He was fired, he believes, because he spoke up about safety issues at employee meetings and because he wore a union shirt on what’s become Union Shirt Friday for some workers at the Telsa plant.  “I had a union sticker on my water bottle, too,” he said.

Which account of events is accurate?

The LA Times Article continued with a discussion of the status of the new Model 3 Tesla...

The new compact Model 3 sedan, crucial to Tesla’s success, is off to a bad start.  By the end of the year, the company has said, the company’s auto factory in Fremont, Calif., is supposed to be turning out Model 3s at monthly rate of 20,000 vehicles.  At last report, however, the company has built only 260 of them.  The factory, Musk has said, is “deep in production hell.”

The Mercury News account of the Model 3 (and general Tesla production) dilemma was a bit more chilling...

The electric vehicle maker missed targets for producing the lower-cost sedan, manufacturing only 260 last quarter despite a wait list of more than 450,000 customers....

CEO Elon Musk said factory output will increase production to a half-million electric vehicles in 2018.  The company expects to deliver about 100,000 vehicles this year.

Musk has told investors the company is focused on Model 3 production and expects to eventually build 10,000 cars a week.  The manufacturing will become highly automated, but Musk told investors during the early ramp up he expected high overtime costs.

He also joked to employees they would be going through “production hell” to meet demand for the new car.  The company said recently a manufacturing bottleneck caused it to fall far short of its goal to produce 1,500 Model 3s in the quarter.  

The company has also started to cut some former SolarCity operations, which were acquired by Tesla last year.  In August, Tesla told state regulators it would layoff 63 workers in Roseville, including sales and administrative staff.  Tesla lost $336 million in the second quarter.

Earlier this month, CNBC ran a story on Tesla entitled Elon Musk warns of ‘manufacturing hell’ to come—Tesla workers say factory safety is already worse than sawmills and slaughterhouses.  What say CNBC of Tesla factory working conditions?

According to the Fremont, Calif., factory workers, Tesla is... putting its employees through a lot. 

"One of the most serious issues concerns our health and safety," says a letter a group of factory workers from Tesla's main Fremont, Calif., facility submitted to the independent board members of Tesla on Monday, just three days after the Model 3 event and amid an ongoing effort to unionize.

"Accidents happen every day.  Severe incidents frequently impact morale and cause delays in production.  We are losing great workers who are valuable to both our production team and to their families while they spend time on medical leave, recovering from preventable injuries."

In May, California-based worker safety organization Worksafe published an extensive report after it analyzed the log of work-related injuries and illnesses at Tesla.

It found that Tesla's "total recordable incidence rate" was 8.8 percent (8.8 injuries per 100 workers) in 2015, the last full-year that data is available for.  That's 31 percent more than the 6.7 percent total recordable incidence rate for the automobile industry as a whole, the report found, citing Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

That 8.8 percent injury rate is higher than the similar injury rates of both sawmills and slaughterhouses, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Sawmills have an injury rate of 7.3 percent and slaughterhouses have an injury rate of 5.1 to 7.3 percent, depending on the type of processing.

At what point does all the EV hype begin to show its slip?

True technological innovations motivated by a desire to help humanity as a whole combat environmental problems that threaten our very existence on this planet, don't come at the expense of sweatshop-style labor practices of the union-busting past.  They also aren't the object of hype-driven skyrocketing price tags!

From a recent Craigslist ad, reported by Green Car Reports on Wednesday...

"DON'T MISS: Tesla Model 3 [sticker priced at $56,000] rated at 126 MPGe, third-best after Ioniq Electric and Prius Prime... $150,000."