In a recent telephone interview with The Guardian this week, Elon Musk had this rather startling thing to say: “I do believe this market cap is higher than we have any right to deserve.” He noted that Tesla is valued by Wall Street about the same at Ford or General Motors, two automakers that each produce about 100 times as many cars each year as Tesla does. Even if Musk’s promise to be manufacturing 500,000 cars a year twelve months from now comes true, that is still far less than the 10 million a year GM cranks out.
“We’re a money-losing company,” Musk added. “This is not some situation where, for example, we are just greedy capitalists who decided to skimp on safety in order to have more profits and dividends and that kind of thing. It’s just a question of how much money we lose. And how do we survive? How do we not die and have everyone lose their jobs?”
Working Conditions At Fremont Factory
Speaking of jobs, Musk also had something to say about working conditions at the factory in Fremont, which employs about 10,000 people. There have dark mutterings and deep rumblings among some of the workers since February, when José Moran told Medium that working conditions at the factory were unsafe and many people were getting injured as a result.
The Guardian interviewed 15 workers for its most recent story, published on May 18. Some spoke on the record but others chose to remain anonymous. “I’ve seen people pass out, hit the floor like a pancake and smash their face open,” said Jonathan Galescu, a production technician at Tesla. “They just send us to work around him while he’s still lying on the floor.” Records show more than 100 times when an ambulance has been summoned to the factory in the past several years. “We had an associate on my line, he just kept working, kept working, kept working, next thing you know – he just fell on the ground,” said Mikey Catura, a worker on the battery pack line.
Building The Machine That Builds The Machines
Richard Ortiz spoke glowingly of the high-tech factory floor. “It’s like you died and went to auto worker heaven,” he said, before adding “Everything feels like the future but us.” That sums up the problem in a nutshell. Elon Musk is fixated on disrupting manufacturing in general. He claims factories could operate up to ten times faster than normal once he is done reinventing what he calls “the machine that builds the machine.” It really doesn’t make any difference what products are being manufactured. Musk thinks assembly lines have not evolved very much since the days of Henry Ford. One of the limiting factors is the speed of human workers, or rather the lack of it.
“You really can’t have people in the production line itself. Otherwise you’ll automatically drop to people speed,” he said during an earnings call last year. “There’s still a lot of people at the factory but what they’re doing is maintaining the machines, upgrading them, dealing with anomalies. But in the production process itself, there essentially would be no people.”
One Man’s Story
Michael Sanchez is one who says he has suffered working at Tesla. At first, he was “ecstatic” when he started five years ago, because he believed Tesla was “part of the future.” Now he has two herniated discs in his neck, is on disability leave from work, and can no longer grip a pencil without pain.
Sanchez said his injuries were caused by years spent working on the Fremont assembly line. The cars he worked on were suspended above the line and his job required looking up and working with his hands above his head all day. “You can make it through Monday,” Sanchez said. “You can make it through Tuesday. Come Wednesday, you start to feel something. Thursday is pain. Friday is agonizing. Saturday you’re just making it through the day.”
Not everyone is dissatisfied. One worker who has been with the company about a year told The Guardian, “I’ve got benefits, I’ve got stocks, I’ve got [paid time off. I thoroughly enjoy my work and I feel I’m treated fairly.” A Tesla representative said, “In a factory of more than 10,000 employees, there will always be isolated incidents that we would like to avoid.”
Pressure Not To Report Injuries
Others claim the culture at the factory discourages people from reporting injuries. “I went from making $22 an hour to $10 an hour,” said a production worker, who injured his back twice while working at Tesla. “It kind of forces people to go back to work.” Adam Suarez has been working at the factory for three years. “No one wants to get a pay cut because they’re injured, so everyone just forces themselves to work through it,” he said.
Musk admits that working conditions were difficult in the early years when workers were on the job 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. But he says things have improved greatly since the decision was made to add a third shift at the factory and began paying more attention to the ergonomics of the workplace.
Musk Hurt By Criticism
For his part, Elon Musk bristled when he spoke with The Guardian. “It’s incredibly hurtful, and, I think, false for anyone to claim that I don’t care.” He claimed his desk was “in the worst place in the factory, the most painful place. It’s not some comfortable corner office.” During the initial ramp up of Model X production, when the doors wouldn’t function correctly and trim that was falling off, In early 2016, Musk took to sleeping on the factory floor in a sleeping bag “to make it the most painful thing possible.
“I knew people were having a hard time, working long hours, and on hard jobs. I wanted to work harder than they did, to put even more hours in,” he said. “Because that’s what I think a manager should do.” He adds, “We’re doing this because we believe in a sustainable energy future, trying to accelerate the advent of clean transport and clean energy production, not because we think this is a way to get rich.”
With all due respect to Elon and his prodigious intellect, sleeping at the end of the assembly line in a sleeping bag is not the same as actually working on the assembly line. His hurt feelings sound a little like The Trumpster complaining to cadets at the Coast Guard Academy commencement on May 17 about how unfairly he is treated by the press.
Eliminating Injuries By Eliminating Workers
“While some amount of injuries is inevitable, our goal at Tesla is to have as close to zero injuries as possible and to become the safest factory in the auto industry worldwide,” a Tesla spokesperson told The Guardian. That is laudable. But what some may lose sight of is that the ultimate way to eliminate injuries is to eliminate workers.
The new Model 3 assembly line will be the most automated production facility in the world and will require fewer human workers than ever before. Musk is perhaps more aware of the the changed coming to the workplace in the very near future, which is why he has said that some sort of guaranteed basic income will be needed when machines do all the work and leisure time is all the time that people are left with.
Source: The Guardian