Tesla Vs the Media: Automaker Slams Investigative Report on Factory Safety

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

Depending on who you believe, Tesla is either the innocent victim of a shadowy, union-backed disinformation campaign peddled by so-called journalists, or a cynical, profit-chasing company willing to underplay injury statistics in a bid to keep its operation looking viable and progressive.

It’s not hard to fall into one of these two camps.

There’s a battle raging between the electric automaker and the journalists behind an explosive story published in Reveal, a publication of the nonprofit Center for Investigative Reporting. In it, Reveal claims workers at Tesla’s Fremont assembly plant face unsafe working conditions resulting from an all-hands-on-deck-style work culture. Workplace injuries are often categorized as personal medical issues, the report stated, and CEO Elon Musk’s dislike of the color yellow (a color used to mark workplace hazards) has created further risk to employees.

False, false, and false, Tesla claims.

The story details one worker’s diagnosed glue inhalation injury, which “never made it onto the official injury logs that state and federal law requires companies to keep. Neither did reports from other factory workers of sprains, strains and repetitive stress injuries from piecing together Tesla’s sleek cars.”

Reveal went on to say that “company officials labeled the injuries personal medical issues or minor incidents requiring only first aid, according to internal company records obtained by Reveal.”

In a blog post rebutting the Reveal piece, titled “A Not So Revealing Story,” Tesla refutes the claims on a criticism-by-criticism basis, The automaker did not mince words when describing what it believes to be the real motivation behind the story.

“In our view, what they portray as investigative journalism is in fact an ideologically motivated attack by an extremist organization working directly with union supporters to create a calculated disinformation campaign against Tesla.” the automaker wrote. “The piece even includes an interview with Worksafe – the same organization that the UAW enlisted to publish a negative report against Tesla last year, and whose board includes labor union officials and advocates.”

Tesla has waged a battle with UAW organizers for the past couple of years, and it’s no understatement to call the fight a nasty one. In its rebuttal, the automaker claims it went over the injury claims reported by Reveal and found no evidence of improper injury reporting. Employers, Tesla stated, rely on third-party medical opinions for such reports.

In response to claims of workers feeling unsafe on the production floor (detailed by a worker’s story that included safety concerns going unaddressed by superiors and worry-related sleep loss), Tesla responded by saying it has hired a VP of Environmental, Health and Safety, and that workers receive proper safety training. It’s a real he said/she said situation.

Reveal, which learned of Tesla’s planned rebuttal it published its piece, claims it interviewed over three dozen former and current employees, and that while some of them supported unionization, others did not.

One point raised in the story — the missing color yellow — is an easier complaint to track. Tesla claims the color yellow “is everywhere,” providing a photo of a yellow robot as an example. It seems this robot only comes in the color yellow, however. For readers to gauge for themselves just how well marked the Fremont floor is, last week’s CBS interview with Musk provides ample opportunity to peer over shoulders. The intrepid Bozi Tatarevic did just this, and posted his findings and observations on Twitter.

Judge for yourself.

After going into its blog post with both barrels blazing, Tesla’s reply ends with a kind of half mea culpa that’s sure to enrage industry watchers.

“This is not to say that there aren’t real issues that need to be dealt with at Tesla or that we’ve made no mistakes with any of the 37,000 people who work at our company,” the automaker wrote. “However, there should be absolutely no question that we care deeply about the well-being of our employees and that we try our absolute hardest to do the right thing and to fail less often. With each passing month, we improve safety further and will keep doing so until we have the safest factory in the world by far. We welcome any suggestions that might help achieve that goal.”

If I’ve learned one thing in this business, and in the career that preceded my time at TTAC, it’s that no sacred cow exists that can count on media support after it tramples all over the profession. Hangers-on and apologists exist in every field of work, sure, but the (often very) limited goodwill afforded to politicos and companies dries up pretty fast when those doing the writing find themselves in the crosshairs. Even in the periphery of the crosshairs.

Safety accusations aside, this could get real messy for Tesla.

[Image: Tesla]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Wjtinfwb Funny. When EV's were bursting onto the scene; Tesla's, Volt's, Leaf's pure EV was all the rage and Hybrids were derided because they still used a gas engine to make them, ahem; usable. Even Volt's were later derided when it was revealed that the Volt's gas engine was actually connected to the wheels, not just a generator. Now, Hybrids are warmly welcomed into the Electric fraternity by virtue of being "electrified". If a change in definition is what it takes, I'm all for it. Hybrid's make so much sense in most American's usage patterns and if needed you can drive one cross-country essentially non-stop. Glad to see Hybrid's getting the love.
  • 3-On-The-Tree We also had a 1973 IH Scout that we rebuilt the engine in and it had dual glass packs, real loud. I miss those days.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Jeff thanks. Back in 1990 we had a 1964 Dodge D100 with a slant six with a 3 on the tree. I taught myself how to drive a standard in that truck. It was my one of many journeys into Mopar land. Had a 1973 Plymouth duster with a slant six and a 1974 Dodge Dart Custom with 318 V8. Great cars and easy to work on.
  • Akear What is GM good at?You led Mary............................................What a disgrace!
  • Randy in rocklin I have a 87 bot new with 200k miles and 3 head gasket jobs and bot another 87 turbo 5 speed with 70k miles and new head gaskets. They cost around 4k to do these days.