Musk and UAW Go At It Over Possible Fake News About Alleged Unsafe Working Conditions

Fake news is back in the news.

On Thursday, Jose Moran wrote a blog post titled, “Time for Tesla to Listen.” In it, Moran cited several complaints about the conditions he and others experience working at the Tesla plant in Fremont, California.

  • “Most of my 5,000-plus coworkers work well over 40 hours a week, including excessive mandatory overtime.”
  • “Preventable injuries happen often… machinery is often not ergonomically compatible with our bodies.”
  • “… jobs… could be simplified if workers’ input were welcomed. “
  • “Add a shortage of manpower and a constant push to work faster to meet production goals, and injuries are bound to happen.”
  • “Most Tesla production workers earn between $17 and $21 hourly. The average auto worker in the nation earns $25.58 an hour.”
  • “Many of my coworkers are commuting one or two hours before and after those long shifts because they can’t afford to live closer to the plant.”
  • “In November, they offered a raise to employees’ base pay — the first we’ve seen in a very long time.”
  • “Management actions are feeding workers’ fears about speaking out.”
  • “Recently, every worker was required to sign a confidentiality policy that threatens consequences if we exercise our right to speak out about wages and working conditions.”

fake news

The 43-year-old Moran summarized his argument by saying, “The issues go much deeper than just fair pay. Injuries, poor morale, unfair promotions, high turnover, and other issues aren’t just bad for workers — they also impact the quality and speed of production. They can’t be resolved without workers having a voice and being included in the process.” He states that he has been an employee at the Tesla Fremont plant for the last four years and is “tired” but “loyal.”

The blog Gizmodo has stated that Tesla CEO Elon Musk responded to their request for comment via Twitter direct message. He is said to have replied that Moran “was paid by the UAW to join Tesla and agitate for a union. He doesn’t really work for us, he works for the UAW.”

The United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) had represented Fremont factory workers when it was owned by General Motors. However, that relationship ended when Tesla bought the factory in 2010. The UAW reacted to Musk’s accusations with the following statement: “Mr. Moran is not and has not been paid by the UAW. We would hope that Tesla would apologize to their employee, Mr. Moran, for spreading fake news about him.”

Fake news has been a prevalent topic of conversation following the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Facebook, as one of the most popular social media outlets, revised its policy about reproducing misinformation. Melissa Zimbars, assistant professor of communication and media at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, compiled a list of sites that didn’t seem newsworthy as well as hints about how to spot fake news. More controversies about fake news erupted, this time about Zimbars’ choices and methodology.

“What we need to do is to figure out a way to deploy the weapons of truth as effectively as other people are deploying the weapons of dissembling,” Politico senior political correspondent Glenn Thrush said on an episode of the Diane Rehm Show.

By Friday, the UAW revealed it had been approached by Fremont factory workers who were spurred on by Musk’s remarks that Moran was on their payroll. “We can confirm that Mr. Moran and others at Tesla have approached the UAW, and we welcome them with open arms.”

Moran said he had been congratulated by fellow factory workers since publishing his blog post earlier in the week. “A lot of people have been … shaking my hand, congratulating me. Glad that someone spoke up.” Moran and his team work on Tesla’s Model S sedan.

The Fremont workers’ attempts to organize emerge just about the same time that their plant will shut down for a week later in the month to get ready for the high-volume, lower priced new Tesla Model 3 sedan.

In response to Moran’s blog post about working conditions at the Fremont plant, a Tesla spokesperson offered this statement:

As California’s largest manufacturing employer and a company that has created thousands of quality jobs here in the Bay Area, this is not the first time we have been the target of a professional union organizing effort such as this. The safety and job satisfaction of our employees here at Tesla has always been extremely important to us. We have a long history of engaging directly with our employees on the issues that matter to them, and we will continue to do so because it’s the right thing to do.

Author’s Note: When I opened my postal mail this weekend, I learned that I have received a Distinguished Service Award from my local union for work that I had contributed during my twenty year tenure. So, it stands to reason that I was drawn to the reports of UAW discontent over the Fremont Tesla plant and Musk’s injudicious remarks in reply. If there is possible union misrepresentation surrounding Tesla employee complaints about working conditions, there’s probably a better place to work it out than Twitter. Mr. Musk, might you consider a negotiating table next time?

Photo credit: jurvetson via / CC BY


Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn grew up in Stafford Springs, CT, home of the half-mile tar racetrack. She's an avid Formula One fan (this year's trip to the Monza race was memorable). With a Ph.D. from URI, she draws upon digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+