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Musk, UAW Tussle Over Tesla Worker Complaints

Elon Musk is firing back after a Tesla employee at the Fremont factory alleged the electric car company has been overworking and underpaying its employees.

According to a blog post on the site Medium, Tesla's electric car factory in Fremont, Calif., is guilty of forcing its more than 5,000 employees to work excessive mandatory overtime in unsafe conditions, and for $4 to $8/hr less than the national average for an auto worker. Because of these conditions, the workers have reached out to the United Auto Workers.

Entitled "Time for Tesla to Listen," the treatise on mistreatment was written by Jose Moran, who according to his LinkedIn profile, has been an Underbody Team Lead at the Fremont factory for the last 4½ years.


The Fremont Factory produces all of Tesla's electric vehicles and is preparing to roll out the Model S 3 this year.
Screengrab: Tesla

Moran qualified his post by stating he is "proud to be part of the team bringing green cars to the masses," and then unfurled a massive list of grievances that included:

  • Preventable injuries occurring due to ergonomically incompatible machinery
  • Shortage of manpower and excessive mandatory overtime
  • Hourly wages of $17-21 that are lower than the $25.58 national average and the $28 living wage in Alameda County recommended for one adult and child
  • Signing a confidentiality agreement that "threatens consequences if we exercise our right to speak out about wages and working conditions"

Because of these actions, the workers have reached out to the UAW for support.

"We need better organization in the plant, and I, along with many of my coworkers, believe we can achieve that by coming together and forming a union," Moran writes. "The issues go much deeper than just fair pay. Injuries, poor morale, unfair promotions, high turnover, and other issues aren’t just bad for workers — they also impact the quality and speed of production. They can’t be resolved without workers having a voice and being included in the process."

It turns out Tesla was listening, and founder Elon Musk says this particular voice is not to be trusted.

“Our understanding is that this guy was paid by the UAW to join Tesla and agitate for a union. He doesn’t really work for us, he works for the UAW,” responded Musk via Twitter direct message to Gizmodo.

He wrote in a separate DM:

“Frankly, I find this attack to be morally outrageous. Tesla is the last car company left in California, because costs are so high. The UAW killed NUMMI and abandoned the workers at our Fremont plant in 2010. They have no leg to stand on.”

Is Tesla CEO Elon Musk preparing for war with the UAW?
Photot: Getty Images

Tesla's official statement is as follows:

"As California’s largest manufacturing employer and a company that has created thousands of quality jobs here in the Bay Area, this is not the first time we have been the target of a professional union organizing effort such as this. The safety and job satisfaction of our employees here at Tesla has always been extremely important to us.”

Gizmodo asserts Moran's LinkedIn profile did not exist prior to Feb. 9.

Whether or not Moran is who he says he is, this blog post has ignited a very public feud between the UAW and Musk.

The UAW chimed in this morning saying Moran "is not and has not been paid" by them, chiding Tesla by calling Musk's allegation fake news and demanding an apology to Moran.

If the conditions are as bad as Moran paints them, it could be a troubling lead up to the production of the Model 3, one of the most anticipated cars in recent memory and the one carrying the hopes and dreams of EVs everywhere. The factory will shut down this month for week to prepare for production, which already has 373,000 pre-orders.

Tesla anticipates the factory could manufacture 500,000 vehicles a year starting in 2018.

Could Tesla, and Musk, be asserting too much pressure on its employees? Musk himself admitted last year he was sleeping on the factory floor to make sure problems were able to be fixed immediately.

It's not a stretch to imagine a "genius billionaire playboy philanthropist" would push his team to achieve its goals. Just look at Tony Stark and the Avengers. And Moran himself admits "We are working hard to build the world’s #1 car — not just electric, but overall."

Marvel Studios

Billionaires Elon Musk and Tony Stark discuss how making the world more eco-friendly, while at the same time to fighting
super villains and unions leaves hardly any time for significant others.

Screengrab: Marvel Studios

And according to pretentious motivational posters everywhere, being the best takes dedication and sacrifice.

Tesla did raise workers' base salary in November and Musk says overtime hours are going down, so this could be one of those inevitable hiccups when a company is rolling out a new product.

But if Tesla is failing to keep its workers safe, that's a completely different issue.

"I hear that ergonomics concerns in other departments are even more severe," Moran writes. "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."

The best response Musk can have now is to investigate these claims and if found to be true, take a few minutes to implement a new ergonomics program to protect workers' from repetitive task injuries. After all, the future of Tesla is riding on these workers backs.

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