As Tesla races to revolutionize the automobile industry and build a more sustainable future, it has left its factory workers in the past, still painfully vulnerable to the dangers of manufacturing.
It’s a story we’ve been covering closely.
Last week, we published our newest investigation into the working conditions at CEO Elon Musk’s factory.
We found that:
- Even as Tesla pushed back against our previous reporting, it doubled down on its efforts to hide injuries from the government and public.
- The Tesla factory’s medical clinic has failed to properly care for injured workers as part of a strategy to lower the company’s injury count.
- By calling work injuries non-occupational, denying medical treatment to those who need it and sending seriously injured workers back to the production line with no work modifications, Tesla avoided counting those injuries and made its safety record look better than it actually is.
- Tesla’s contract doctors tell staff to send injured workers to the emergency room in a Lyft instead of an ambulance.
This is the latest revelation in a story has unfolded over the last couple of years. Here’s a quick guide to get you up to speed:
May 2017: Tesla workers are under intense pressure, and the company’s injury rate is higher than average
The Guardian reported that Tesla workers endured long hours, injuries and intense pressure to meet Musk’s production goals – and cited 911 calls for fainting spells, dizziness, seizures, abnormal breathing and chest pains. Also, the advocacy organization Worksafe issued a report that Tesla’s injury rate was higher than the auto industry average. The reports came as the United Auto Workers tried to unionize the plant.
June 2017: Musk makes dubious claims about Tesla’s injury numbers
Musk claimed at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting that the company’s injury rate was significantly lower than the industry average and on track to be half the average. When official numbers came out for 2017, though, that wasn’t the case. Also, the National Labor Relations Board later alleged that in a June 2017 meeting with employees, Musk “impliedly promised to remedy their safety complaints if they refrained from their union organizational activity.”
February 2018: Production pressure leads to injuries
In February 2018, BuzzFeed reported that the tremendous production pressure resulted in lifelong injuries, including repetitive stress injuries from not rotating positions.
April 2018: Tesla is undercounting injuries
We reported that Tesla was undercounting injuries – failing to record them on legally mandated logs that determine the company’s injury rate. Overall, we found that Tesla prioritized speed over safety and ignored the concerns of its own safety professionals. Members of the safety team were told not to use yellow, the standard safety color, to mark certain factory hazards because Musk didn’t like the color. Tesla called us an “extremist organization” in a statement before the story was published. California’s workplace safety agency opened an investigation – more on that below.
May 2018: Some missing injuries reappear
Tesla added 13 injuries from 2017 that had been missing from its injury logs, essentially acknowledging that it had been failing to count some injuries. But we reported that Tesla might not face penalties because regulators had only about six months from the date of an injury to cite an employer. Musk took to Twitter to call us “just some rich kids in Berkeley who took their political science prof too seriously.”
June 2018: Tesla hires new provider to run factory clinic
At Tesla’s annual meeting, Musk said the company’s injury rate was going down and Tesla had a chance at being half the industry average. “I really care about this issue,” he said. The same month, Tesla hired Access Omnicare to take over its on-site health clinic. Also in June, a former high-level Tesla safety official sued the company for allegedly firing him in retaliation for reporting unsafe conditions and illegal practices.
August 2018: California’s workplace safety agency cites Tesla
Cal/OSHA, California’s workplace safety agency, wrapped up its probe of Tesla, fining it $400 for failing to record a single injury in the required timeframe. Tesla has used this to claim it was cleared of wrongdoing. But the agency told us it found several other examples of undercounting injuries that were outside the six-month statute of limitations – and that even if it could cite Tesla for them, the total fine still would be $400.
September 2018: New law could strengthen enforcement
Following our reporting, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law to extend the period regulators have to fine employers for undercounting injuries. It is now six months from when investigators discover the violation instead of six months from the date of the injury.
November 2018: Tesla doubles down
That brings us to our latest investigation, which found that Tesla doubled down on its efforts to hide serious injuries from the government and public. As for Cal/OSHA, the agency wasn’t interested when a Tesla clinic whistleblower came forward. After she insisted and we started asking questions, the agency said it would investigate. Tesla, meanwhile, distributed a statement from the clinic doctor criticizing the story.
To dig deeper, read these stories …
- Reveal: Inside Tesla’s factory, a medical clinic designed to ignore injured workers
- Reveal: Tesla belatedly adds injuries to its books, but it might not face penalties
- Reveal: Tesla says its factory is safer. But it left injuries off the books
- BuzzFeed News: At Tesla’s factory, building the car of the future has painful and permanent consequences for some workers
- The Guardian: Tesla factory workers reveal pain, injury and stress: ‘Everything feels like the future but us’
- Bloomberg: Hell for Elon Musk is a midsize sedan
- CNBC: Tesla insiders paint an unflattering portrait of Musk’s micromanagement that wastes time and money
- Wall Street Journal: Elon Musk faces his own worst enemy
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