It looked like things had calmed down on the unionization front at Tesla’s Fremont factory over the last month as United Auto Workers (UAW) focused its efforts on the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi.
Now a group called ‘Tesla Workers’ Organizing Committee’ have sent a letter to Tesla’s board of directors with demands.
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Earlier this year, Tesla preemptively defended the safety of its factory and warned of a ‘media push’ from the auto workers union about safety at the factory,
In the letter, that’s the first point that they bring up:
“One of the most serious issues concerns our health and safety. In 2015, the last full year for which data is available, we had an injury rate that was far higher than the industry average. For that year, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that our injury rate was higher than that of sawmills and slaughter houses. Accidents happen every day. Severe incidents frequently impact morale and cause delays in production. We are losing great workers who are valuable to both our production team and to their families while they spend time on medical leave, recovering from preventable injuries.”
Tesla says that it already addressed the issue and that its 2015 results are not representative of the situation in Fremont anymore.
The company claims that the factory’s total recordable incident rate (TRIR) through the end of Q1 2017 was 4.6 – ahead of the industry average of 6.7.
Even tough Tesla acknowledged “challenges in the past”, they insist that they “now have the lowest injury rate in the industry by far”:
“We may have had some challenges in the past as we were learning how to become a car company, but what matters is the future and with the changes we’ve made, we now have the lowest injury rate in the industry by far. Our goal is to have as close to zero injuries as humanly possible and to become the safest factory in the auto industry.”
‘Tesla Workers’ Organizing Committee’ is also asking for a clearer path to advancements in the letter to the board:
“The second challenge we have revolves around the process through which workers are evaluated and promoted. There is currently no clear policy for how workers like ourselves might advance at Tesla. There are no guidelines for what is expected of us, or what defines success. Many of us have worked hard for years with the vague promise of a raise, to no end. We experience a great deal of workforce turnover due to the financial insecurity that we face at Tesla, and we strongly believe that a defined understanding of success and reward will have an impact on product quality.”
It’s difficult to evaluate just how serious is the unionization effort at Tesla, but it comes at a critical moment for the company as it is trying to significantly increase its production capacity at the factory to manufacture Model 3 in large volumes.
In the past, UAW President Dennis Williams said that they were “respecting Tesla’s startup status” up until now, but they are seeking to get involved apparently since Tesla is about to increase its production capacity with the Model 3, which could involve hiring 3,000 more workers at the plant.
The UAW has since sent organizers at Tesla to spur the unionization effort.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has pushed back against unionization efforts – saying that their interests “are not aligned with Tesla’s mission to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy” and he bets workers will choose Tesla’s stock options over union dues.
A vote for the Nissan plant in Canton, Mississippi, is planned for this week and the results could have an impact on the effort at Tesla.
You can read the letter to Tesla’s board in full here: