By Doug Parker, Executive Director
Worksafe’s recent report on injury rates at Tesla drew a range of responses on social media. The majority of responses were positive and supportive of our work. However, in a sign of the times, there were also attacks, some of which are crass and all of which were unhinged from the uncontested facts presented in the report.
Some of the critics are simply espousing virulently anti-union, anti-worker views. Some state openly that they aren’t concerned about worker injuries if it serves a ‘greater good’ such as pollution reduction. These sorts of extreme and callous responses are a reality of social media debate, if the word debate can even be used to describe such exchanges.
The criticisms I find most interesting, however, come from seemingly left-leaning, well-educated Bay Area residents who view Elon Musk as a visionary leader and Tesla as a revolutionary company. These critics are unwilling or unable to accept facts that disrupt these narratives. Although they didn’t use these words, to them our report was “fake news.”
Between what I learned as we wrote the report, stories I’ve heard about the work culture at Tesla, and responses to the report from our critics, I see a risk to workers when startup culture and manufacturing collide. Mark Zuckerberg once famously directed staff at Facebook to “move fast and break things” to foster innovation. The record suggests that Tesla has applied that philosophy, and as a result it is workers’ bodies that have been broken.
In response to scrutiny of Tesla’s injury record, Mr. Musk announced that going forward he will review every work injury, talk to each injured worker, and perform each injured worker’s job himself to better understand the circumstances of the injury. This spirited and unorthodox plan misses the point. Tesla workers don’t need a CEO running around the plant performing work he isn’t trained to do, trying to address hundreds of worker injuries per year ad hoc.
Tesla workers don’t need a savior. They need a genuine – and collective – voice at work.