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Leon Kaye headshot

Elon Musk Slams Criticism of Tesla Working Conditions, Promises Fun and Frozen Yogurt

By Leon Kaye

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk hit back hard at allegations of unsafe working conditions at the company’s assembly plant in Fremont, California. In an email sent to Tesla’s employees that was posted on the automotive blog Electrek, Musk claimed he was “distraught” over recent accusations publicized by a Tesla employee.

Earlier this month, Jose Moran, an assembly worker at Tesla’s Fremont plant, wrote a blog post on Medium that lauded the company’s vision, yet he said believed he was “working for a company of the future under working conditions of the past.” Moran claimed that many of Tesla’s 5,000-plus employees worked well over 40 hours and even up to 70 hours a week, logged excessive overtime, suffered too many preventable injuries and, in sum, work for a company where the pay ranks amongst the lowest within the automotive industry. Moran suggested that Tesla consider allowing its assembly line employees, who make an average hourly wage of $17 to $24, to join the autoworkers union UAW.

Musk certainly wasn’t having it.

In the email, the contents of which were authenticated by Business Insider, Musk accused the UAW of “underhanded attacks” and painted his company as the “David” against the “Goliath” comprised by the Detroit-based automakers.

To his credit, Musk acknowledged that the compensation at Tesla was lower than that of the Big 3 U.S. automakers – unless stock equity grants were factored in. But then Musk became rabidly defensive on the subject of workplace safety as he took issue with Moran’s claim that at one point 6 out of 8 of his team members were on medical leave. Assuming Moran meant that same rate of missing work applied to the entire company, “That would mean something like 80 percent or more of the factory would be out on injury, production would drop to virtually nothing and the parking lot would be almost empty,” Musk wrote.

Musk emphasized the benefits of working at Tesla by pitching the company’s ability to “afford more and more fun things” as it becomes more profitable. Promises include “a really amazing party” once the company’s much-anticipated Model 3 accelerates production later this year, as well as free frozen yogurt stands and an electric pod roller coaster on the premises. (No mention was made, however, of a foosball table, the ubiquitous Silicon Valley tech company perk.)

Meanwhile, the UAW has pushed back against any allegations that Moran, who has reportedly worked at Tesla for four years, was a UAE employee. Adopting the two famous words that are now part of today’s discourse, the labor union said in a statement, “We would hope that Tesla would apologize to their employee, Mr. Moran, for spreading fake news about him.” The California branch of UAW, however, made it clear that Tesla is in its crosshairs, confirmed that Moran and other Tesla workers approached the union, and said its membership would "welcome them with open arms.”

The war of words between Musk and the UAW comes at a time when rents in the Bay Area are still hovering around $2,500 a month for a one-bedroom, making the cost of living difficult for anyone earning wages in the range of $20 an hour. And during an era when more middle- and working-class Americans wonder if they can find gainful employment, the latest controversy comes at a time when the hiring practices and working conditions at technology companies, ranging from Uber to Amazon, raise questions over whether their business models enrich the few while exploiting the many.

Image credit: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye