Jose Moran, a production associate at Tesla who is working with the United Auto Workers to form a union there, told The Outline he has a lot of admiration for the company.
“I was attracted to the company because of their mission,” he said. “Elon Musk is a visionary. He’s a genius.”
Moran was hired in September 2012, he told The Outline — something we were unable to independently verify, but which Tesla did not refute — meaning he’s worked at the plant for more than four years. As time wore on, Moran found himself ground down by the job. Tesla set aggressive production goals, but always seemed to be falling short of its targets. That meant mandatory overtime for workers, which sometimes meant coming in on Saturdays.
“It puts a lot of strain on your body when you’re working six days a week, 12 hours a day,” Moran said.
There was no plan for going public with his concerns, he told The Outline. “It was just time to put it up there and bring attention to try to improve working conditions.”
Moran did that Thursday with a blog post on Medium calling for a union. He cited low pay, bad morale, high employee turnover, and work-related injuries. Members of his team suffered injuries in the spring of last year, he told The Outline, including shoulder injuries, back injuries, and a rib injury.
“There is no oversight in the company. There is nobody looking out for us,” he said. “When there is no oversight, companies tend to ignore injuries, they tend to ignore working conditions. By forming a union, we can have a better employee-management relationship.”
The Outline spoke to another former Tesla employee who said he worked at the company as a stamping production associate for almost two years before quitting in late 2016.
“I had heard rumors of people trying to unionize, but I also heard that when HR heard about it, those people were very quickly let go,” he said. “Honestly, I don't think they'll get better conditions. I don't even see them letting then unionize.”
This employee got tendinitis after about three months on the job and got workers’ compensation, but had to go back to work for financial reasons. “They were working you 12 hours a day with tools that on warning labels clearly say ‘do not use for long durations of time,’” he said. “It was just they necessarily didn’t care about our well-being. They just wanted you to bust out the job and didn’t care how it affected our bodies.”
“When I wrote the article, I knew the consequences.”
Other current and former Tesla employees commenting on the Facebook group were divided. Some agreed that Tesla drives its workers too hard, while others said unionizing would only lead to shutting the plant down. “You want Tesla to go union? Ask Detroit how that’s working out for them. People are stupid,” one person commented.
Moran’s blog post angered Elon Musk, who told Gizmodo that Moran is a plant being paid by the United Auto Workers union, which has been agitating to sign up Tesla workers for years. The UAW said Moran is not on its payroll. Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Musk’s reaction seems to signal an adversarial battle ahead for any employees who want to unionize. Tesla had previously asked employees to sign a confidentiality agreement, which prompted five members of the California State Assembly to rebuke the company. “We are concerned that over-broad language in the confidentiality agreement violates these provisions and has resulted in a chilling effect on workers’ ability to engage in protected activity,” they wrote in a letter to Tesla on January 10.
“When I wrote the article, I knew the consequences,” Moran said. “There could be backlash, retaliation, or even termination. I’m a little nervous, but if you want to terminate me for having an opinion, if they’re scared about someone having an opinion, then they’re going to do what they’re going to do.”
Labor law protects employees from retaliation for organizing.
Tesla’s production plans would make it the ninth-largest seller of new vehicles in the U.S., according to USA Today. It is the only American-owned car assembly plant that is not represented by UAW.