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Tesla defends safety of its factory after ‘media push’ from the auto workers union

Since a first publicized effort in February, the United Auto Workers (UAW) has been trying to unionize Tesla’s factory in Fremont. Last month, they cranked up the pressure and enlisted local groups to push for the union and now Tesla is proactively coming out with a press release claiming that UAW is organizing a media push over claims of safety issues at the factory.

CEO Elon Musk already addressed the issue in a leaked email to all employees that we published in February. He said that claims of leaves due to injuries were exaggerated and that they have made improvements that resulted in their total recordable incident rate (TRIR) being under 3.3, which is less than half the industry average of 6.7.

In a new blog post, Tesla says that they are bringing up the issue again based on “anecdotes”:

“Earlier this year, the United Automobile Workers (UAW) announced it was attempting to organize workers in Tesla’s Fremont factory. The latest phase of their campaign involves a concerted and professional media push intended to raise questions about safety at Tesla.

We have 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 UAW indeed started Facebook groups and Twitter accounts promoting those stories and trying to get them into the media.

The company defended its safety programs again and this time, it listed several initiatives (from the blog post):

  • Historically, depending on production needs, some Tesla employees have worked significant amounts of overtime because it was necessary for the company to survive. However, working overtime can be challenging for employees and their families. Last year, we added a third shift to reduce the overtime burden on each team member and to improve safety. We did this because our employees asked for it, and because it was the right thing to do.
  • As a result of this change, the average amount of hours worked by production team members has dropped to about 42 hours per week, and the level of overtime decreased by more than 60%. We hired our first dedicated Ergonomist in 2013, and in 2015 established an Ergonomics Team exclusively focused on improving health and safety and reducing ergonomic risk for current and future production.
  • In addition to improving the process of building Model S and X, Model 3 has been designed specifically with ergonomics in mind. Our ergonomics team has worked hand-in-hand with our engineers on the design process. As just one example, we created simulations that showed us where reaching or bending by employees was most likely to occur, which in turn allowed us to redesign the equipment and the car to eliminate these issues as much as possible.
  • Each department now has a Safety Team that meets regularly to increase safety awareness and recommend improvements, many of which have already been implemented.
  • We are continuing to establish health and safety management procedures to scale with our operational growth.

They updated the factory’s total recordable incident rate (TRIR) through the end of Q1 2017. They say that it is now 4.6, which is more than it was earlier this year, but still 32% better than the industry average of 6.7.

In the blog post, the company says that they aim to “have as close to zero injuries as humanly possible”, but they reiterate that they are already ahead of the industry average, which they want people to keep in mind when anecdotes of accidents are pushed by the union.

Musk recently pushed back against unionization efforts – saying that their interests “are not aligned with Tesla’s mission to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy” and he bets workers will choose Tesla’s stock options over union dues.

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