Tesla reportedly treats factory workers like many successful start-ups: Like afterthoughts

Tesla employees work on a Model S car in the Tesla factory in Fremont, California.
Image: Jeff Chiu/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Silicon Valley companies are often built around making the world more efficient, but engineering efficiency has a human cost many of them either didn’t see coming or would like to forget.

Tesla, it seems, is no different.

Reports of incidents at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory include “fainting spells, dizziness, seizures, abnormal breathing and chest pains,” according to information published by The Guardian Thursday.

Someone’s had to call an ambulance 100-plus times since 2014. At least one person passed out, “hit the floor like a pancake” and split their face open, according to a production technician The Guardian spoke with. Employees were told to “work around him.” Another employee now has two herniated neck discs after he spent years on the assembly line with his arms raised above his head to reach cars hanging in the air.

Workers believe those injuries and conditions are the result of grueling forced overtime in an unsafe environment, conditions employees believe are the result of managers trying to speed up production so Tesla can hit CEO Elon Musk’s goal of rolling out 500,000 new cars in 2018, which would be close to a 500 percent increase on the number produced in 2016.

Musk admitted to the The Guardian his workers had been having a hard time, working long hours, and on hard jobs but said that he cared about their health and wellbeing.

Tesla’s initial years were apparently marked by an above-average level of danger on its factory floor.

Tesla’s initial years were apparently marked by an above-average level of danger on its factory floor. That level of danger fell well below the industry standard in 2017, but growing pains were marked by the literal pain of its employees, which often happens as Silicon Valley ideas of efficiency slam into the human reality of traditionally blue-collar work.

Amazon packaging factories, for example, are home to temperatures that range from “below zero” to more than 100 degrees, where workers can be fired for crying and are forced to work ridiculous hours for little pay to say nothing of the pressure on corporate employees to work all hours of the day and night, lest they be shamed into submission.

So many employees at Foxconn the Taiwanese factory that produces Apple products such as the iPhone 7 have committed suicide that the factory installed nets to catch the bodies at places where people might jump. Foxconn forces employees to work overtime in addition to their usual 12-hour days. One journalist working undercover for the BBC worked for 18 days in a row even though he kept asking to get some time off. Drained employees fall asleep on the job. At other factories that pump out Apple products, insane amounts of overtime are normal, children work alongside adults, and employees finish long hours only to retire to dorm rooms packed with people.

Uber isn’t a company that’s needed to do a ton of manufacturing (although that is beginning to change with its strides toward autonomous vehicles). But its conception of labor fits the narrative seen at Telsa, Amazon, and Apple. The company went to court to fight paying drivers like employees.

When disruption equates to a minimization of human labor, the humans who produce iPhones and Teslas wind up minimized themselves. Perhaps, after finishing The Guardian’s Tesla article, the only thing readers will find is that the injuries and allegations are eerily unsurprising.

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