On April 16th, Tesla stopped production of the Model 3. This was planned as they continue to improve production of the last model sedan. A Tesla representative stated, “These periods are used to improve automation and systematically address bottlenecks in order to increase production rates.” These delays have been growing and Tesla has some serious catching up to do for their goal of 2,500 vehicles per week, which all have to be built by the second quarter. The heavy automated assembly line is really holding back this effort, as it’s not very efficiently producing the Model 3.
Elon Musk, co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla, agrees with this and tweeted on Friday that, “Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.” The company had a four day pause in February to adjust equipment so there could be improved automation. They were also trying to address a bottleneck within the production line. They warned of future pauses to come, which is normal for automakers to do with new models. However, experts believe they have been taking shortcuts, which is leading to production issues.
Meanwhile, there is a report that Tesla may have been under-counted worker injuries which the company denies while the Center for Investigative Reporting Reveal believes the company failed to report serious injuries which is legally mandated by the state, so they could make the numbers appear better than the truth. There was a lawsuit last year that filed claiming Musk misled investors with the newest model. On Wednesday, Tesla began to be openly investigated by the California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health but officially opened it late the Tuesday before then. The probe could take up to six months to finish and the agency declined to say what caused the investigation to begin.
A spokeswoman for the state’s industrial relations department, Erika Monterroza, stated that the state agency, “takes seriously reports of workplace hazards and allegations of employers’ underreporting recordable work-related injuries and illnesses” and “currently has an open inspection at Tesla.” A Log 300 records is required by law in California for employers so they can report serious injuries or illnesses within eight hours. The state will not disclose details of the inspection but will be reviewing these records.
Tesla called it, “an ideologically motivated attack by an extremist organization working directly with union supporters to create a calculated disinformation campaign against Tesla,” on a blog article posted on April 16th. An email statement on Wednesday in response to news of California’s investigation said that the injury rate at Fremont was lower than when Toyota Motor Corp. and then-General Motors Corp. operated the factory with UAW-represented workers. Th United Auto Workers union has attempted to organize workers at the Tesla factory for more than a year now.
Tesla also said “We care deeply about the safety and well-being of our people and strive to do better every day.” “Cal-OSHA is required to investigate any claims that are made, regardless of whether they have merit or are baseless (as we believe these are), and we always provide our full cooperation.” The regulation for serious injury or illness is that it requires hospitalization beyond 24 hours for matters other than medical observation or a body part is lost or permanently disfigured. “We have never in the entire history of our company received a violation for inaccurate or incomplete injury record-keeping,” the company said.
The investigation followed Buzzfeeds February story on former Tesla workers who stated that production pressure and failures caused rotated employee’s tasks which lead to serious injuries. The Guardian, as of May 2017, reported managers belittling safety complaints and to work through the pain. Musk replied saying that he had placed his desk “the most painful place” in the factory and also mentioned that the company was losing money. “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?” Musk said.
Bloomberg News contacted several people who were working a the factory. They stated the push to work long hours with the unresponsiveness to workers concerns only adds to an already unsafe environment. Dennis Duran, a pro-union employee who works in the Fremont paint shop, said “They’re still 100 percent just about production. If the line goes down, I see 20 maintenance guys trying to get it up and running. I don’t see that priority with health and safety.”