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Tesla responds to factory safety concerns following United Auto Workers' push to unionize

By William Gayde ยท 11 replies
May 15, 2017
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  1. The United Automobile Workers has been trying to unionize factory workers at Tesla's plant on Fremont, California for a few months. The union is known for securing higher wages and safer working conditions for its members, but it has been receiving considerable backlash over this newest effort. They have pressured local media groups in "a concerted and professional media push intended to raise questions about safety at Tesla." In response to this, Tesla has strongly criticized the union and its methods which CEO Elon Musk says are based on anecdotes.

    Tesla appears to be proactively trying to discredit the union before they gain significant traction. In a blog post over the weekend, Tesla has reiterated their goal of creating the safest car factory in the world. Tesla has "received calls from multiple journalists at different publications, all around the same time, 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.”

    The main benchmark of a factory's safety is its Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR). This is a measure of the number of OSHA incidents recorded over the total number of hours worked by employees. When the UAW first began their campaign back in February, Tesla had a TRIR of under 3.3. This is less than half of the industry average of 6.7. Since then, Tesla's TRIR has increased to 4.6 but that is still well below the average.

    Of course even one accident is too many so Tesla has continued to implement additional safety precautions as outlined in their statement. Musk is well known to be anti-union and believes their interests “are not aligned with Tesla’s mission to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy.” His view is that workers will choose Tesla’s stock options over union dues.

    Permalink to story.

     
  2. Greg S

    Greg S TechSpot Staff Posts: 804   +411

    If I were a Tesla employee I'd be taking as many options as possible over union dues as well. $100k over your career in extra value or paying someone else to try to negotiate on your behalf and will allow people less skilled than yourself to get paid the same as you? No thanks.
     
    Tanstar, Kotters, m4a4 and 6 others like this.
  3. Kenrick

    Kenrick TS Evangelist Posts: 397   +245

    Union is great to secure your job but promotes "I dont care as long as I am being paid" attitude. If you are a supervisor in a company, good luck dealing with team members that belong to a union especially old guys. I hope Tesla workers won't take the blue pill.
     
  4. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 2,681   +1,438

    Having been a union steward several decades I can tell you that these days the only way a union has a real chance of organizing into a non-union plant is if there are conditions in the plant that make the line employee feel it's that unionizing is the only way to make a change for the better.

    While their accident rate is lower than average, it is climbing. As you look as Tesla's production growth and projected growth, the only way to make those numbers is to increase the work force or make the existing work force work longer hours and even with more employee's, it takes time for them to get "in the groove", which can actually slow down production for a time. If management ignores those facts and keeps pushing, accidents will increase as will dissatisfaction and that is the sure road to unionization.

    If they do unionize and management takes on an adversarial approach, the plant will continue to move toward that "don't give a damn" attitude. That is what closed a number of US auto production plants and only when management & labor were able to work together to a mutually agreed upon method did production go up and costs go down.

    Accident rates and more importantly "lost time injury" accidents are a KEY indicator of a plant in trouble. Elon would be wise to slow down his "big idea" projects and get back to the basics. I guarantee those employee's want to be successful, but they have to feel appreciated and SAFE. Without those two factors he's going to face a world of problems, none of which will benefit the company.
     
    TheBigT42, CrazyDave and Reehahs like this.
  5. p51d007

    p51d007 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,143   +533

    Unions get a hold of Tesla, you can kiss innovation and quality goodbye. When you are a union shop,
    the good workers get paid the same as the slobs that show up, do nothing, and complain all the time.
    NO to unions!
     
  6. Theinsanegamer

    Theinsanegamer TS Evangelist Posts: 603   +546

    If management doesnt care, then the slobs stick around, union or no.

    And until the US gets full proper workers protections, unions are necessary to keep companies from abusing their employees.

    With a union, you have protection from bent management, a voice you dont get otherwise, and collective bargaining leading to better wages/benefits. Strong unions lead to a strong middle class and a strong economy. Yes to unions!
     
  7. davislane1

    davislane1 Inquisitor Posts: 4,427   +3,394

    Unions increase the size of the middle class by rewarding underachievers in the name of justice. A momentary benefit that ceases to exist as soon as offshoring is viable.
     
    Tanstar likes this.
  8. Cycloid Torus

    Cycloid Torus TS Evangelist Posts: 2,541   +473

    @Uncle Al "While their accident rate is lower than average, it is climbing." Would the focus on safety promote better safety or more accidents? (Or both?) Also, are "lost time injury" accidents reported publicly?
     
  9. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 2,681   +1,438

    Thanks for the questions. There are a number of ways to improve safety, but none of them work very long if they don't have the absolute backing of management. Better safety equipment and practices that are endorsed & encouraged on a daily basis. In our most successful safety practices, managers and at lease one key manager was the "Evangelist" for safety. He had the capacity to stop any operation that was viewed as unsafe or even appeared to be a safety issue. Some companies try to skirt this by declaring a "Zero Accident Policy" which, in practice, says they can get rid of any employee that has an accident. Training, observation, correction, then re-observance are key approaches. It is said that a person will perform a task 22 times before it becomes a habit. Get people into the habit of doing it the safe way as a habit, and you eliminate the majority of accidents.

    Lost Time Injuries are reported along with any accidents on the standard OSHA form 300 & 300A. Companies will not generally provide a copy of individual accident reports due to privacy laws, but they are supposed to provide a copy upon request to the employee. OSHA will provide a copy of the statistical information (monthly & annual) upon request, but this is for the entire company so pinpointing issues may be difficult.

    A number of companies will avoid the Lost Time Injuries by offering the employee "light duty" until they can return to their normal schedule. While not illegal, it might be considered unethical. Most of the employee's would prefer that option as opposed to going on disability, which is usually only 60% of their normal pay.

    All of this information is readily available at OSHA.gov and if you sign up they have a lot of publications that may be helpful.
     
    Phr3d, Raoul Duke and Cycloid Torus like this.
  10. Tanstar

    Tanstar TS Evangelist Posts: 571   +157

    I work in a non-union auto factory, but agree that no factory is safe unless that is an overriding priority. The equipment here is downright scary if you think about what it could do to a human body. We run a safe facility, but it only takes one area manager "looking the other way" to end that quickly.
     
    Uncle Al likes this.
  11. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 2,681   +1,438

    Do you have a safety committee teamed by employee's and supervision? If not you may want to suggest it. Most companies will support such a thing. Put together lists of what are perceived as "unsafe conditions" and itemize them by most to least dangerous. Some of the most basic corrections can be relatively cheap to fix. The use of light curtains, multi-input actuators, safety guards and appropriate uniform restrictions (no long sleeves around rotating equipment) can go a long way toward preventing accidents. When there is an accident, invite those involved to come to the meeting and discuss what went wrong and how to prevent it in the future. Communication is the single greatest weapon your company has to prevent accidents. Good luck keep working on it. Safety is EVERYBODY's business!
     
  12. Tanstar

    Tanstar TS Evangelist Posts: 571   +157

    Yep. We have a "Safety Manager" in every plant and a cross function team made up of people from various areas in each plant.
     

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