Elon Musk calls Tesla executives back to the office — and they use the factory’s demanding schedules to justify his orders.
Tesla’s CEO sent an email on May 31 titled “Remote work is no longer acceptable (sic)” arguing that for the company to succeed, executives had to return to Tesla’s head offices. He noted that Tesla’s factory worker schedules were more taxing than those of white-collar workers.
“Anyone who wants to do remote work must be in the office for at least 40 hours (and I mean *minimum*) per week or leave Tesla,” the electric car mogul wrote in the internal email reported by Bloomberg. “That’s less than we’re asking factory workers.”
Musk claimed in a follow-up email that his own errands of working long hours and sleeping in the Tesla plant in Fremont were the reason the automaker escaped bankruptcy. “The older you are,” he wrote, “the more visible your presence should be.” “That’s why I’ve lived in the factory a lot – so those on the line can see me working with them.”
True, it is known that the workers of the Tesla plant log hard hours. During the Shanghai lockdown, Tesla workers reportedly pulled out 12-hour shifts, six days a week, sleeping first in factories and then in makeshift bedrooms. Workers at a Tesla plant in the US were also required to work 12-hour shifts, six days a week while production ramped up.
But as a reason for refusing to work remotely, cumbersome factory schedules isn’t a compelling argument. (Tesla stock is up six times today from what it was at the start of the pandemic when the company embraced remote work.) The more important question is not whether Tesla executives are doing too little, but whether Tesla is pushing factory workers to do too much.
Working conditions of Tesla factory workers
Tesla has been repeatedly criticized for its treatment of workers in its factories.
In May 2020, Musk reopened a Tesla plant in Fremont, California, defying government orders to stay at home, and critics say it puts the health of factory workers at risk. A Tesla factory had about 450 cases of COVID-19 out of nearly 10,000 workers between May and December 2020. Several factory workers also said they were fired for refusing to come to work due to health concerns, despite Tesla’s assurances they were not obligated to do so. during the early months of the epidemic.
Musk’s lofty productivity goals at Tesla have also been linked to illness and on-the-job injuries among factory workers, according to a 2017 investigation by The Guardian. While Tesla responded that it had made a number of changes aimed at improving safety conditions, it subsequently failed to report hundreds of injuries. at the Fremont plant, according to the California Workplace Health and Safety Regulator.
The Blind Spot of Elon Musk’s Employment
Musk, who owns about $130 billion in Tesla stock, expects all Tesla employees to care as much about his company as he does. workaholic once claimed “No one has ever changed the world in 40 hours a week,” Musk often remembers sleeping on the floor in solidarity with factory workers during Tesla’s “production hell” for the Model 3 launch.
But the valuation of extreme watches and culture bustle has become obsolete. Work-life balance and employee well-being dominate the conversation—as the CEO’s talking points, to say the least.
Musk’s views do not align with this environment, in which workers are increasingly willing to make demands. White-collar workers are resisting mandates to return to the office. Some companies give up (or at least reduce the number of days required in person). Meanwhile, Starbucks baristas and Apple retail workers are leading successful union campaigns. Hourly workers made significant wage gains in the face of labor shortages.
With the US labor market slowing, workers may lose some leverage. But sectors such as manufacturing with higher-than-normal combination rates still have trouble filling job vacancies. Furthermore, the pandemic has raised awareness of the difficult conditions many blue-collar workers face. Companies like Amazon are facing more scrutiny over their shoddy treatment of delivery and warehouse employees, something that former Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos acknowledges needs to be improved.
Tesla says it is a company with a bold vision for the future. But the future of work seems to expand rights and improve conditions for workers, from the factory floor to the office suite. Musk’s letter to Tesla executives appears too late.
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