Soapbox

Tesla isn’t a clean company if it treats its workers like dirt

Prospective Tesla Model 3 owners wait in line to place a deposit on the new electric car model in La Jolla in March 2016.
Prospective Tesla Model 3 owners wait in line to place a deposit on the new electric car model in La Jolla in March 2016. San Diego Union-Tribune/TNS

As an environmental justice activist, I believe that finding equitable solutions to the climate crisis is the paramount challenge of our time. And I applaud Tesla for being an innovative company that has made real strides towards reducing carbon emissions and contributing to a cleaner environment.

But I also believe that building a sustainable world must not come at the expense of workers or communities struggling to make ends meet. And that’s why the company’s recent round of firings, with no warning and no explanation, took me by surprise.

 
Opinion

We don’t know exactly how many people were affected – Tesla won’t release any numbers – but we do know that hundreds of Bay Area families lost their livelihoods. And we know that a number of workers, especially at the company’s Fremont plant, had recently spoken up about working conditions, health and safety issues and a pay scale that makes it difficult for them to care for their families.

Tesla’s behavior should be of great concern to all Californians who see the company as a beacon for a sustainable future. Starting pay at its Fremont facility is just $18 an hour – far below the living wage for Alameda County. The callousness with which workers were fired does not reflect California values, especially for a company that has benefited from millions of dollars in state tax breaks and subsidies. Public investments should be given to companies that lift our communities up and make our families stronger.

Also, Tesla’s history of health and safety issues, including higher than average injury rates, is concerning. So is the fact that many of its workers are immigrants and people of color, and that their efforts to organize to improve working conditions have been met with interference. The National Labor Relations Board has filed a complaint against Tesla for intimidating and harassing workers.

I understand Tesla’s goals and value its mission. But that does not excuse the company’s behavior toward working people. Californians still have a right to expect that Tesla treat people with dignity and respect. No company is sustainable if its workers are disposable.

Miya Yoshitani is executive director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network in Oakland. She can be contacted at miya@apen4ej.org.

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