Musk responds to Tesla line workers on wages, injuries, confidentiality


Tesla factory, Fremont, California

Tesla factory, Fremont, California

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Tesla CEO Elon Musk has responded vigorously to an employee's claims of low wages and commonplace on-the-job injuries.

In an email to employees and statements to media outlets, Musk denied the claims and accused the employee who made them of being a paid union agitator.

Earlier this month, Jose Moran said Tesla employees, "routinely work well over 40 hours a week, including excessive mandatory overtime."

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The claims came in a Medium post, in which Moran also said Tesla workers routinely suffered from "preventable injuries," due largely to assembly-line equipment that was not ergonomically designed.

While many workers have said they are "fed up" with long hours, Moran said, Tesla employees rely on overtime to make ends meet.

That's due to comparatively low wages, and the much higher cost of living in the area housing Tesla's Fremont, California, factory compared to other regions with auto-assembly plants.

1,000th body for 2012 Tesla Model S on display at Tesla Motors factory, Fremont, CA, Oct 28, 2012

1,000th body for 2012 Tesla Model S on display at Tesla Motors factory, Fremont, CA, Oct 28, 2012

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Most Tesla production workers earn $17 to $21 an hour, against an average of $25.58 an hour for U.S. auto workers overall, Moran said, adding that most of those other auto workers live in less-expensive regions of the country.

Moran said Tesla employees had reached out to the United Auto Workers union "for support."

After becoming aware of the outreach, he said Tesla management responded by offering employees a raise in their base pay.

But he said that management also demanded that employees sign confidentiality agreements, threatening consequences "if we exercise our right to speak out about wages and working conditions."

Musk countered all of Moran's claims on working conditions in an email to employees obtained by TechCrunch.

The Tesla CEO said claims of widespread injuries were unfounded, claiming Tesla's total recordable incident rate of 3.3 percent since January 1 was less than half the industry average.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk at Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk at Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013

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Tesla production workers have worked an average of 43 hours per week so far this year, Musk said , adding that overtime has declined by about 50 percent since last year.

Overtime rose in 2016 during the ramp up of Model X production, Musk said.

Regarding compensation, Musk asserted that combining Tesla's wages, benefits, and the equity awarded to new employees adds up to higher total compensation than the average earnings of dues-paying union employees at the Detroit Three automakers.

In the email, Musk also criticized the UAW and described Moran's post as being intended to promote the union—a theme he would return to in a different forum.

Tesla Motors - Model S lithium-ion battery pack

Tesla Motors - Model S lithium-ion battery pack

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In a Twitter direct-message conversation with Gizmodo in response to claims of low wages and difficult working conditions, Musk accused Moran of being "paid by the UAW to join Tesla and agitate for a union."

"He doesn't really work for us, he works for the UAW," Musk said without elaborating, suggesting that, "the UAW killed NUMMI and abandoned the workers at our Fremont plant in 2010."

Tesla's Fremont plant was formerly New United Motoring Manufacturing Incorporated, a joint venture of General Motors and Toyota that Toyota sold to Tesla after the two automakers ceased operations at the factory.

The UAW confirmed that Moran and other Tesla employees had approached it, but told Gizmodo that Moran "is not, and has not been, paid by the UAW."

[hat tip: Eric Trytko]

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