As Tesla Plant Shows Early Signs of Unionizing, Musk and UAW Trade Blows

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Some employees at Tesla Inc.’s Fremont, California factory have been moving ahead with efforts to unionize. Fronting that campaign is Jose Moran, who claims to have worked at the plant for the last four years. He and other disgruntled Tesla employees have reached out to the United Automobile Workers, claiming they work long hours for low pay under unsafe conditions as the company pursues aggressive production deadlines.

While Tesla’s CEO has responded with his own claim that Moran was paid by the UAW to join his company and proselytize for a union, the organization promptly refuted that suggestion by accusing Tesla of spreading dreaded “fake news.”

The UAW previously expressed an interest in unionizing Musk’s California assembly plant employees after an investigation revealed that Tesla hired foreign workers through a subcontractor. Those workers were reportedly paid $5 an hour and forced to work long hours in an unsafe manner.

In a recent blog posting, Moran echoed those safety concerns.

“Preventable injuries happen often. In addition to long working hours, machinery is often not ergonomically compatible with our bodies,” he wrote. “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.”

He also wrote Fremont plant employees typically earn between $17 and $21 an hour, before citing the current national average of $25.58 per hour. The U.S. Department of Labor actually lists a higher average.

Tesla’s California factory is the sole U.S. plant owned by an American automaker that is not unionized, and the UAW hasn’t kept secret its desire to change that. The union’s secretary-treasurer, Gary Casteel, told Automotive News in June that members had been speaking with workers at the plant. However, UAW also claimed it had planned to wait until Tesla had moved beyond startup status to begin organizing.

“This is not the first time we have been the target of a professional union organizing effort such as this,” a Tesla spokesman said in an official statement.

The automaker’s CEO was much more candid — criticizing Moran’s accusations as well as the union.

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

[Image: Tesla Motors]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Feb 11, 2017

    They will relocate at some point if the CalExit gains steam. Importing from a non-NAFTA nation will kill them.

  • Driver7 Driver7 on Feb 11, 2017

    Stingray65's description of the NUMMI plant is from the period *before* the UAW workers at the GM Fremont plant adopted Toyota's production methods. The radio show "This American Life" did a entire program about the Fremont plant, which was broadcast in 2010, and again in 2015: Link to that radio show: Transcript of the show: From the "This American Life" transcript - what happened when the UAW workers returned from training at Toyota in Japan, and started working at NUMMI: Bruce Lee They hit the ground running. It didn't take a year, two years to get quality in that product. Frank Langfitt Again, the UAW's Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee Oh, I was so proud of them, you can't believe. The fact that they did it didn't surprise me that much, but how quickly they did it did. It was amazing. Here were these same people who before, I mean, were-- hell, they'd go out of their way to make life miserable for General Motors particularly. And, you know, they were old, they were fat, because that was not a young workforce that we brought in here. Frank Langfitt The numbers coming out of the NUMMI plant were astonishing. Again, here's Jeffrey Liker. Jeffrey Liker The best measure they use is how many defects are there per 100 vehicles. And it was one of the best in America. And it was the same for the Toyota cars that were made in California as the Corollas that were coming from Japan, right from the beginning. Frank Langfitt Maryann Keller, a long time car analyst, devotes a chapter to NUMMI in her book about the rise and fall of GM, Rude Awakening. After just three months, she says, the cars coming off the line were getting near perfect quality ratings. And just as important for GM were the cost savings.

  • Bd2 I wonder how TTAC is celebrating this JuneTeenth? Rolling around naked in hyundai flavored mud somewhere like they usually do?
  • Wjtinfwb I'd like to see a Ford/Mazda relationship restarted. Both companies have some car guys keeping the flame alive and could develop a sports car slightly bigger than a Miata and pick and choose from each other's parts bin to put together some attractive powertrain combo's. Even a Mazda 3 AWD with the 300HP EcoBoost 2.3L, manual and AWD from the Focus RS would be welcome. Even better, a factory Miata V8 with the 480 HP Coyote (i know it wont fit...) and a manual gearbox. And how about a CX-5 with a 2.7L EcoBoost V6 with AWD and an chassis tuned for sport. Lots of possibilities.
  • Blueice Patient 28, sorry, but it is Oktoberfest. Bring a kegof Kraut beer and we will 50% you.
  • Bd2 Probably Toyota, Hyundai is killing them these days.
  • Wolfwagen If Isuzu could update this truck and keep the cost between $25K - $30K they would sell like ice pops on dollar day in a heat wave.