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Tesla Employee Calls For Unionization, Musk Says That's 'Morally Outrageous' (arstechnica.com) 594

"In a Medium post published today, Tesla employee Jose Moran detailed working conditions at the company's Freemont factory and called for the factory workers to unionize with United Auto Workers (UAW)," reports Ars Technica. In response, Elon Musk told Gizmodo via Twitter Direct Messages: "Our understanding is that this guy was paid by the UAW to join Tesla and agitate for a 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 went on to blame the UAW for killing the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc (NUMMI), which sold the Fremont factory to Musk in 2010. Ars Technica reports: Tesla currently employs more than 5,000 non-union workers at its Fremont, CA-based factory. Moran wrote that the workers are often faced with "excessive mandatory overtime" and earn between $17 and $21 hourly, compared with the national average of $25.58 hourly for most autoworkers in the U.S. The Tesla employee noted that the astronomical cost of living in the Bay Area makes $21 an hour difficult to live on. Moran also claimed that the factory's "machinery is often not ergonomically compatible with our bodies," and requires "too much twisting and turning and extra physical movement to do jobs that could be simplified if workers' input were welcomed." He added that at one point, six out of eight people on his team were out on medical leave "due to various work-related injuries."
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Tesla Employee Calls For Unionization, Musk Says That's 'Morally Outrageous'

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  • by RobotRunAmok ( 595286 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @08:09AM (#53838365)
    He should quit. Or move to where the Cost of Living/Wage for His Expertise ratio is friendlier.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Easier said than done. Single, yup, not an issue. Married, that's hard if the wife is in a career. You now have two jobs to find in a new area. Kids, yeah, good luck with matching up schools to new areas and finding two jobs. So how about you wind in your next you smug git and think there's more to life than a dweeb fly-by comment maker on a dead site.

    • by stooo ( 2202012 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @09:35AM (#53838911)

      >> He should quit.
      No, I don't think Elon Musk should quit. He has to learn a thing or two on series production.
      I'll suggest him to take a tour of the Volvo plant in Torslanda.
      They can give him a lot of useful advice on how to design things to be easy to assemble, and how to rotate workers around on different tasks.
      Tesla has a lot of lessons to learn that the auto industry had 30 Years ago.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ghoul ( 157158 )

      Tesla sells premium priced cars. Part of why people are willing to pay such prices are they think with a factory in California Tesla's costs are higher . The other assumption is that with workers paid more than in the rest of the country the quality must be higher. If Tesla is actually paying even the same as in other car companies in other parts of the country Tesla is cheating its customers.

  • Just leave (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sooner Boomer ( 96864 ) <sooner.boomrNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday February 10, 2017 @08:15AM (#53838391) Journal

    If you don't want your plant unionized, pack up and move to a non-union or "right to work" state. I bet Texas would love to have you. Other benefits, lower taxes, less regulation, good selection of high tech workers.

    • Re:Just leave (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Gavagai80 ( 1275204 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @08:31AM (#53838471) Homepage

      Or better yet, just skip straight to the developing world so you can even more fully exploit people.

    • Why should someone have to switch jobs to avoid the union? Why shouldnt they have the fucking *right* not to have to join the union at a workplace?! How is that not the union interfering in someones private life?!

      • by clong83 ( 1468431 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @12:06PM (#53840281)
        It's not interfering with someone's private life unless they opt to work for a union shop... Unions are a collective of people freely associating and negotiating a contract with a private entity which stipulates that all new hires must be amenable to joining the union. Sounds pretty free-market libertarian to me. If enough union members are pissed about mandatory membership, that's probably a sign the union isn't functioning properly. In that case, the union members themselves can then vote to disband or to not require membership. But in an otherwise normal union, removing mandatory membership from the contract turns the situation into a tragedy of the commons dilemma, wherein people will avoid paying dues while still enjoying the protections that a union affords. That is, until the union shrivels and dies.

        The 'interference' comes in the form of the government meddling with contracts between otherwise private and freely associated entities, and weakening the tools that one party has at its disposal.
  • Unions (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nehumanuscrede ( 624750 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @08:17AM (#53838401)

    Unions certainly had their time and place in history, but these days it seems to be less about standing up for the little guy and more about how much money can we bring in via Union Dues. ( My opinion of course, I work within a Union Company )

    That said, $21 an hour is a rather laughable wage in a State with a high cost of living like California. Hell, a wage of $80k is laughable in a State where housing starts at $500k and goes right off the scale.

    So there is this thought:

    If Musk doesn't want his employees getting seduced by the Union, he should probably consider bumping the pay of his workers to near what the national average is and address any concerns they may have ( like excessive mandatory overtime per the article ). As long as he keeps his workforce happy, they'll have no reason to Unionize and Musk will have nothing to worry about.

    Of course, there is the flip side.

    Musk can say " screw this " and move the entire operation out of California and into another State where the cost of doing business is much lower.

    • Re: Unions (Score:5, Interesting)

      by fluffernutter ( 1411889 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @08:27AM (#53838443)
      Companies certainly had their time and place in history, but these days it seems to be less about making a quality product for the consumer and more about making as much profit for the shareholders as possible.
      • Companies certainly had their time and place in history, but these days it seems to be less about making a quality product for the consumer and more about making as much profit for the shareholders as possible.

        And how, pray tell, does one make as much profit for the owners (or, if you prefer, shareholders) without, well, selling a product people want to buy for a price they are willing to pay?

        It's not like competition is illegal (unless you're a taxidriver, or government employee, of course), so if your pr

        • by radl33t ( 900691 )
          mainly the erection of market barriers via regulation, lobbying, scale, and duplicitous behaviors including bribery, collusion, nepotism, and other forms of corruption.
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          You assume there is competition and you assume when their is competition that companies are forced to make a better product. Go buy a appliance sometime asshole.
          • Re: Unions (Score:4, Insightful)

            by CrimsonAvenger ( 580665 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @10:33AM (#53839399)

            You assume there is competition and you assume when their is competition that companies are forced to make a better product. Go buy a appliance sometime asshole.

            Oddly enoiugh, I did that this past December. And oddly enough, there were multiple choices, from cheap junk to quite expensive (and high quality) appliances.

            Which means a range of choices for everyone who wants a dishwasher, for instance. Pick what's in your budget and fits your needs.

            Now, alternately, we can go with the "one model fits all" theory. It has, after all, worked so well in the past. Oh, wait, it hasn't.l...

            I'm curious, where do you live that there are no choices in appliances?

    • Re:Unions (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Baloo Uriza ( 1582831 ) <baloo@ursamundi.org> on Friday February 10, 2017 @08:28AM (#53838455) Journal

      Unions certainly had their time and place in history, but these days it seems to be less about standing up for the little guy and more about how much money can we bring in via Union Dues. ( My opinion of course, I work within a Union Company )

      Sounds like your union sucks, therefore all unions suck? Maybe you should get more involved in your union.

      That said, $21 an hour is a rather laughable wage in a State with a high cost of living like California.

      That's rather the union's point, is it not?

      • The problem is that the union can argue for a $40/hour wage until their blue in the face, but they can't change economic reality. Say that the company gives into the union and their employees are now making $80k/year, which is great until they company goes under within a few years because its incapable of being competitive with other local or even foreign companies. So now the union has to argue for protectionist tariffs in order to support their workers, which is basically arguing that I'm forced to restri
    • Unions certainly had their time and place in history, but these days it seems to be less about standing up for the little guy and more about how much money can we bring in via Union Dues. ( My opinion of course, I work within a Union Company )

      I agree with this sentiment. One of my mom's friends is a unionized electrician that, last I heard, hadn't actually worked in near 3 years and is still having to pay union dues to be "in the club" and he signed a contract that he can't back out of. I also have a buddy, in the same city, that is a non-unionized electrician and he works 4-10's every week. Granted this isn't the story with all unions, but a good example nonetheless.

      Given the choice between earning a living and slowly bleeding out, I'd pick

    • California doesn't have a high cost of living, only specific localities like Fremont and the bay area in general. Tesla could pay the same wage in Sacramento and it'd be perfectly fair because it'd go at least 3x further. They chose to build their factory in Fremont apparently because those are the people they really wish to hire, so it's time to pay them for their apparent specialness.

    • Want to know why Wal-Mart hasn't unionized? Funny story. Those unions who are only interested in dues and are Mafia controlled and {insert other anti-union nonsense here} keep turning up at stores, organizing meetings, and so on.

      And then, oddly enough, those stores start treating their employees well. There are wage increases, grievances are suddenly addressed, management starts dealing with various unpleasant aspects of working at Wal-Mart, and meetings are called where they point out all those voluntar

    • I am not going to say all unions are bad. If done properly a union should be a huge benefit to workers. Unfortunately, in the US many of them are basically scams designed to enrich the union officers as much as possible.

      My brother works for a union company and is a member of the union. He has observed over the years that many of the union's actions are much better for the union and the union officers than they are for the union membership. The problem in his view isn't the idea of the union, so much as the

      • The biggest issue is that some of the unions have become so large and represent workers across so many industries and employers such that they are insulated from the historic symbiotic relationship between employee and employer. In this case for example, lets say UAW succeeds, unionizes Tesla and as a result of higher costs, forces it out of business. That's 5000 workers on the street, less than 2% of UAW 390,000 total members. UAW leadership isn't out anything and they continue on their merry way. Historic
    • by thomst ( 1640045 )

      nehumanuscrede opined:

      If Musk doesn't want his employees getting seduced by the Union, he should probably consider bumping the pay of his workers to near what the national average is and address any concerns they may have ( like excessive mandatory overtime per the article ). As long as he keeps his workforce happy, they'll have no reason to Unionize and Musk will have nothing to worry about.

      Of course, there is the flip side.

      Musk can say " screw this " and move the entire operation out of California and into another State where the cost of doing business is much lower.

      "For every complex human problem, there is one and only one simple solution - and it is always wrong." - H. L. Menchken

      First of all, Musk really can't increase Tesla workers' wages significantly. Tesla is still only marginally profitable, and, despite probably the most extensive use of industrial robots in the auto industry, it has a workforce of approximately 5,000 at the former NUMMI plant. A $10/hour raise for that many people (and this is assuming a 40-hour workweek with

  • by darthsilun ( 3993753 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @08:22AM (#53838419)

    Moran claims he's worked there for four years.

    Tesla/Musk claim Moran was paid to join Tesla to agitate for unionizing.

    So he joined four years ago, and was silent for four years.

    And only after four years of silence, four years of mandatory overtime, etc., etc., he starts to speak out.

    At which point he's suddenly a shill for the UAW?. Dunno, whether he is or isn't a shill, that doesn't make it magically wrong, per se, to argue for a union.

    (And perhaps it need not be the UAW, but if not them, then who?)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Mashiki ( 184564 )

      Not fishy at all. The Toyota plants in Woodstock, Ontario and Cambridge, Ontario have had multiple cases of this. People would get hired on usually by having a sterling resume, or qualifications that put them above the average worker to get hired on. Then after several years start agitating for unionization and so on. It's why the unionization vote at the Woodstock plant has failed at least 4 times that I know of.

      • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday February 10, 2017 @08:42AM (#53838537) Homepage Journal

        People would get hired on usually by having a sterling resume, or qualifications that put them above the average worker to get hired on. Then after several years start agitating for unionization and so on.

        So they work for years and then they want to be treated better and therefore they are a UAW plant who is evil and must be destroyed? I'm going to need more than that.

      • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        If the employees are happy and feel they are paid fairly then any attempts to unionize will fail, the workers will just not have any desire to do so. Only when they feel that working conditions are bad or they are being treated unfairly or underpaid is when a place is ripe for unionization.

        I have been hearing that tesla employees complain about working conditions and expectations, that can be a catalyst for one of these plants to get a union in place.
        But if management has any brains at all it's easy to squ

  • by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @08:23AM (#53838421)

    There should be no need and no place for a dispute over "not ergonomically compatible" and "excessive mandatory overtime". Legislated workplace standards, (and people of integrity to investigate complaints and enforce relevant legislation), should be in place to prevent this kind of dispute from being fought in the press. As for unions, they are an evil made necessary only by the fact that so much of government is in the pockets of corporations. Just my two cents worth.

  • or morally outrageous, depending upon who i talk to while eating Lucky Charms.
  • UAW scam job (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 10, 2017 @08:50AM (#53838583)

    Normally I'm not a fan of Elon Musk's approach to things, but i have to agree with him on this. Of course the UAW would be after him once he gets enough momentum for Tesla, it's what the UAW does. And frankly it's the UAW's policies that have crushed the old car manufacturers in the US; their ability to redesign production processes is severely hampered by union rules.

    The reason I support Musk though on this is because if the things that this guy claims is true of Tesla's plant, then frankly they don't need to unionize to improve conditions because the plant would be illegal under California labor law. I've worked in manufacturing facilities in California nearly my entire life. So either Tesla is operating illegally, or this guy is making a lot of false claims to cause agitation. I doubt the California Labor Commission (CLC) would have not inspected a 5,000 employee plant by now, so the more likely scenario is this guy is making stuff up.

    From his post:

    "Most of my 5,000-plus coworkers work well over 40 hours a week, including excessive mandatory overtime. "

    This is extremely illegal under California state law; then penalties for companies for this are really harsh. Musk can't even get away with it by making his employees salaried exempt, the CLC takes a very hard stance on classifying employees of a particular job differently than another company. And they do inspect.

    "The hard, manual labor we put in to make Tesla successful is done at great risk to our bodies."

    Tesla's plant is heavily automated so I find this unlikely. I also find it unlikely that OSHA has not inspected a 5,000 employee plant for safety and health hazardous issues given how OSHA operates, so this is a questionable statement.

    "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."

    I could see ergonomics to be a problem, and Tesla is under a crunch to deliver vehicles and meet performance measurements. And given how fast Tesla has grown, I could see their production lines being made in a haphazard and inefficient and not ergonomic way. But again, I doubt it. Tesla took a lot of influence from Toyota (including investment) on this plant, and frankly Toyota's lines are far and above the best in the business when it comes to efficiency and worker safety. So it's possible, but again unlikely.

    "Most Tesla production workers earn between $17 and $21 hourly. The average auto worker in the nation earns $25.58 an hour, and lives in a much less expensive region. The living wage in Alameda county, where we work, is more than $28 an hour for an adult and one child (I have two)."

    I'm sorry buddy, but labor is a market. If you don't like your rate go find another job that pays better, it's that simple. You signed up for the job at this rate, you can always leave and find another. It' unethical to go into a job with a pay rate you knew was low when you signed up, and then threaten unionization to increase the pay rate; that's you threatening trying to break an employment contract you signed.

    "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."

    This is extremely unlikely. Work related injuries must be reported to OSHA on an ongoing basis. If a whole team is down due to people out due to medical injuries, even if the management is a cold-hearted I would think they'd be concerned about the efficiency of this team and try to make fixes, because this would shut down an entire functional group in the plant. Not only that, if 6 out of 8 on a team were out and those were reported to OSHA, then OSHA would be sending inspectors in almost next day. So for this to be true, Tesla would have to be breaking Federal employment law by not reporting injuries to OSHA, so he's either claiming that Tes

    • Re:UAW scam job (Score:4, Informative)

      by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @12:04PM (#53840255) Homepage Journal

      "The hard, manual labor we put in to make Tesla successful is done at great risk to our bodies."

      Tesla's plant is heavily automated so I find this unlikely. I also find it unlikely that OSHA has not inspected a 5,000 employee plant for safety and health hazardous issues given how OSHA operates, so this is a questionable statement.

      Actually Tesla has failed inspections.

      http://insideevs.com/tesla-mot... [insideevs.com]
      Tesla Motors Fined $89,000 For 7 Safety Violations Linked To Fremont Factory Incident

              “Tesla employees Jesus Navarro, Kevin Carter and Jorge Terrazas were taken to Valley Medical Center in San Jose with second- and third-degree burns. Carter and Terrazas have returned to work. Navarro, who had burns on his hands, stomach, hip, lower back and ankles, was hospitalized for 20 days and continues to recuperate at home.”

              “Cal-OSHA’s investigation found that Tesla failed to ensure that the low-pressure die casting machine was maintained in a safe operating condition and allowed its employees to operate the machine while the safety interlock was broken. It also found that the employees had not been properly trained regarding the hazards of the machine, and were not wearing the required eye and face protection.”

      http://www.dir.ca.gov/dosh/cit... [ca.gov]

      4/25/2014 Tesla Motors, Inc. Fremont Fremont District Office
      Serious – 6
      General – 1
      Total
      Violations - 7

        Citations were issued to Tesla Motors, Inc. for six Serious and one General violation. The employer did not conduct periodic inspections of use of a low pressure die casting machine, and allowed employees to continue using the machine after a safety interlock had been damaged, which resulted in injuries to three employees who were sprayed with molten metal. The employer failed to release the air pressure used to inject molten aluminum into molds before servicing, did not maintain the machine in safe operating condition and did not use a protective shield. The employer did not ensure that employees were trained in the hazards of using the machine, and did not ensure that employees used eye and face protection.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Where to start?

      "Most of my 5,000-plus coworkers work well over 40 hours a week, including excessive mandatory overtime." This is extremely illegal under California state law; then penalties for companies for this are really harsh. Musk can't even get away with it by making his employees salaried exempt, the CLC takes a very hard stance on classifying employees of a particular job differently than another company. And they do inspect.

      From the State of California's Department of Industrial Relations: "Q. Can

  • Ars Technica DID fix the headline at some point. It no longer implies that Musk said Unions were morally outrageous. The fact that they originally ran with that headline is...not a good thing.

    Is there any evidence aside from Moran's statement that he's been with Tesla 4 years? Because if he has, it SERIOUSLY undermines Musk's contention that he's paid by the UAW to organize. I'd like to see Musk's evidence of that assertion, if any way.

    Also: IF the UAW did pay someone to go to work somewhere else just to tr

  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Friday February 10, 2017 @09:03AM (#53838675)
    Elon Musk didn't say that a call for unionisation was morally outrageous. He said that for someone to be "paid by the UAW to join Tesla and agitate for a union" was morally outrageous. There's quite a difference

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