Construction workers who worked hard at one of Tesla’s so-called sprawling gigafactories will file a lawsuit and referral to the federal Department of Labor on Tuesday detailing the abusive working conditions they say they endured while building the factory.
The whistleblowers have come forward to allege serious labor and employment violations during the construction of the electric car maker’s massive new facility in Austin, Texas that left them vulnerable to injury and wage theft.
Amid accusations of constant dangers and on-site accidents, a worker says his bosses at an unnamed contractor forged credentials instead of providing him and others with the job training required including education on health, safety and workers’ rights – including the right to refuse unsafe work. .
Other whistleblowers report what they describe as wage theft and say they have not been paid at all or have not received appropriate overtime compensation for their work in the high-tech facility.
“Nobody deserves what happened in the gigafactory to happen to them, not their family members or anyone,” said Victor, a worker who asked the Guardian not to reveal his last name for fear of reprisal, in an exclusive interview about working conditions, adding, “I don’t think that’s humane.”
Tesla’s 2,500-acre gigafactory in Austin was one of the hottest construction jobs in the US after workers started there in 2020, As multi-billionaire entrepreneur and owner of Tesla, SpaceX and now Twitter, Elon Musk erected a central U.S. outpost for his automaker. From the outside of the project, the new factory looked like an ideal workplace for any builder.
The company has chosen a convenient location along the Colorado River near Austin airport, which Musk has touted as a job opportunity for thousands, where he will manufacture the Cybertruck, an electric pickup truck that will long delayed. In April, Musk donned sunglasses and a black cowboy hat at a “Cyber Rodeo” celebrating the venue’s initial opening.
But construction workers painted a much less rosy picture of the new factory, suggesting what was supposed to be a dream job has turned into a nightmare.
On Tuesday, Victor filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Osha), part of the Department of Labor, about false required training completion certificates which he claims did not occur. never produced.
He told the Guardian that his team was tasked with working on the roof of the metal factory at night without lights, working on turbines that blew smoke without protective masks, and otherwise putting themselves in harm’s way without basic information on how to stay safe.
In one instance, Victor said he and his colleagues had to keep production on the flooded first floor – although he observed there was live wiring everywhere and cords in the water. He remembers saying to his wife: “I am going to die in this factory”.
On another occasion, Victor worked with a man who needed the money so badly that he returned to work in a splint after breaking his arm on the spot.
“Every day there was a security issue,” he told the Guardian.
Other workers sacrificed time with loved ones to continue building the plant over Thanksgiving last year, but say they never received the double pay bonuses they were promised, according to the dismissal of Tuesday to the Federal Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.
In an industry as fragmented as construction, with its vast network of contractors and subcontractors, workers’ rights advocates argue that developers like Tesla are ultimately those with the power and moral authority to demand fair labor standards.
Yet “Tesla wasn’t – didn’t seem – interested in using its power to make sure everyone could go home at the end of the day injury-free, with all the money owed to them in their pockets. “, said Hannah. Alexander, staff attorney for the Workers Defense Project, a nonprofit that helps construction workers.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment, while Workers Defense Project did not share identifying information about the contractors and subcontractors accused of labor violations for confidentiality reasons in connection with an ongoing investigation.
This isn’t the first time Musk’s auto company has been linked to security breaches.
In recent years, Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., plant has far surpassed other major U.S. auto factories for Osha violations, incurring more than $236,000 in fines between 2014 and 2018. Similarly, in its plant outside Reno, Nevada, workers suffered a host of injuries. , including amputations.
By 2020, when the company set its sights on Austin for another plant, accusations of an overly informal relationship with workers’ rights had traveled far, and a broad coalition of labor groups, advocates and locals of the county told the local government that any deal with Tesla should include strong worker protections.
But amid stiff competition with other cities also trying to win Tesla’s billion-dollar investment, local officials have greenlit a plan to lure the electric carmaker with millions in tax refunds – and without the enforcement mechanisms that advocates warned were needed.
Now some workers are facing the result.
“Everything we see is complicated by the fact that there’s not a lot of transparency or accountability because they’ve decided not to include that element of independent oversight,” policy director David Chincanchan said. of the Workers Defense Project.
“In general, the state of the construction industry in Texas tends to be just a race to the bottom,” said Chincanchan, where exploitation of many vulnerable workers, often immigrants, is rampant.
Amid Tuesday’s filings, the Austin gigafactory is now under fire.
“Everyone is at fault,” Victor said. “Anyone could have prevented it. Tesla could have prevented it.