Tesla’s position is clear: the California electric-car maker doesn’t feel a union is needed to protect its factory workers from what it claims are only anecdotal stories about worker safety and wage levels.
Last weekend, Tesla continued to punch back at United Auto Workers organizating efforts at its assembly plant in Fremont, California, according to The Silicon Valley Business Journal.
Tesla says that reports surrounding the safety of its workers have not been “data driven,” but rather based solely on anecdotes—and that credulous journalists are being suckered.
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“We have received calls from multiple journalists at different publications, all around the same time,” the company wrote on Sunday, “with similar allegations from seemingly similar sources about safety in the Tesla factory.”
“Safety is an issue the UAW frequently raises in campaigns it runs against companies, and a topic its organizers have been promoting on social media about Tesla.”
Tesla went on to says that such reports ignore safety data from 2017, which it outlined in a handful of data points.
Those points proclaim a 52-percent reduction in “lost time incidents” and 30-percent reduction in “recordable incidents” during the first quarter.
Additionally, the automaker’s “total recordable incident rate,” a workplace-safety metric tracked by OSHA, sits at 4.6, while the industry average hovers around 6.7.
Hours worked per employee also fell, according to Tesla’s data, with a 60-percent reduction in overtime.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has routinely criticized unionization efforts at the automaker’s factory and fended off the claims of employees who say they are underpaid and overworked.
Previous reports say Tesla employee wages are $17 to $21 an hour, against the average U.S. autoworker’s rate of $25.58 an hour.
The pay discrepancy is heightened, according to some workers, because the cost of living is much higher in California than in the South and Midwest where other auto plants are located.
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk at Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013
Tesla has not released official compensation data for its workforce, though workers have said overtime is essential to make ends meet.
To counter that claim, Musk told employees in a leaked memo that production workers actually earn far more in total compensation—when the value of stock options are included—compared to other automakers.
He pegged that difference at $70,000 to $100,000 per year.
Tesla stock prices are now close to all-time highs, and the company’s market capitalization now exceeds those of GM and Ford.
So it’s not clear how much upside there may be in stock options that can’t be redeemed until sometime in the future—let alone how much use they are to $17-an-hour workers in the Bay Area’s brutally expensive housing market.
1,000th body for 2012 Tesla Model S on display at Tesla Motors factory, Fremont, CA, Oct 28, 2012
The UAW and Musk have battled over accusations an employee was paid by the union to sway other workers into unionizing.
The union told Bloomberg in February that it had a paid labor organizer in California, but that there was “nothing abnormal” about that, UAW President Dennis Williams said.
Finally, it’s worth noting that—like any other company engaged in PR battles—Tesla sometimes chooses its statistics selectively.
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Last year, an exasperated CEO Musk invited reporters to “do the math” on the safety record of the company’s Autopilot system, which includes limited self-driving capability, following the fatal crash of a Model S with Autopilot engaged.
An in-depth analysis of its claims by Green Car Reports produced comparative safety rates rather different than what Musk claimed.
In other words, statistical claims from any company are worth verifying—especially when they come in the heat of an unwelcome PR battle.
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