Unions and automakers have a long and fraught relationship. As Tesla has begun to evolve into a major automaker, the union has come calling, and Detroit execs are doubtless looking on with sympathy (or schadenfreude?) at the events of the past couple of weeks.
Recently, Tesla factory worker Jose Moran claimed in a post on Medium that the company required “excessive” overtime, and that on-the-job injuries were common. He also pointed out that Tesla’s hourly wages are lower than those paid by other automakers, although the factory is located in one of the country’s most expensive regions. Moran said that he and others had “reached out to the United Auto Workers (UAW) for support.”
Elon Musk believes the writer is a shill for the UAW, which has been trying to unionize the plant for years. “Our understanding is that this guy was paid by the UAW to join Tesla and agitate for a union,” Musk told Gizmodo. The UAW has confirmed a Bloomberg report that the union is in discussions with workers at Tesla’s Fremont plant, but denies that they have paid Mr. Moran.
Musk promised to investigate Moran’s claims, and has now presented his findings in an email to Tesla employees, which has been published in full by Electrek.
Musk told his employees that he was “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.”
He proceeded to address the issues one by one:
Safety: “Our goal is…to be the safest factory in the auto industry by far,” wrote Musk. “That is why I was particularly troubled by the safety claim in last week’s blog post, which said: ‘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.’ After looking into this claim, not only was it untrue for this individual’s team, it was untrue for any of the hundreds of teams in the factory.”
“Since the beginning of Tesla production at Fremont five years ago, there have been dedicated health and safety experts covering the factory and we hold regular safety meetings with operations leaders,” Musk continued. “Since January 1st, our total recordable incident rate (TRIR) is under 3.3, which is less than half the industry average of 6.7.”
Compensation: “At Tesla…everyone is awarded shares and you get to buy stock at a discount compared to the public,” Musk wrote. “Last year, stock equity grants were increased significantly and it will happen again later this year once Model 3 achieves high volume.”
Musk presented a chart that detailed the total compensation received by a Tesla employee who started on January 1, 2013 against the total received over the same period at GM, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler. While Tesla does pay its employees less in salary than the Big Three, when stock grants are included, total compensation is much higher.
Work Hours: Musk acknowledged that employees have put in some heroic hours as production has increased, but pointed out that Tesla has now established a third shift, and created alternate work schedules based on employee feedback.
“The average amount of hours worked by production team members this year is about 43 hours per week. The percentage of overtime hours has declined by almost 50% since the super tough time we had last year achieving rate on the Model X.”
Fun: This is something most people wouldn’t associate with the inside of an auto factory, but for Musk it’s always been part of the equation. “As we get closer to being a profitable company, we will be able to afford more and more fun things,” he writes. “We are going to hold a really amazing party once Model 3 reaches volume production later this year. There will also be little things that come along like free frozen yogurt stands scattered around the factory and my personal favorite: a Tesla electric pod car roller coaster (with an optional loop the loop route, of course!) that will allow fast and fun travel throughout our Fremont campus, dipping in and out of the factory and connecting all the parking lots.”