April 17, 2018 Kim Krisberg 0Comment

At Reveal, Will Evans and Alyssa Jeong Perry investigate worker safety conditions at the auto manufacturer Tesla, interviewing more than three-dozen current and former employees and managers and reviewing hundreds of pages of documents. In interviews, workers often noted that speed was prioritized over safety, and “Musk’s name often was invoked to justify shortcuts and shoot down concerns.” While Tesla says its worker injury rate has dropped, the Reveal investigation found that the company failed to report some of its serious injuries on legally mandated reports. Interviewed workers also talked about experiencing dangerous chemical exposures at the car plant.

Instead of addressing the many serious worker safety concerns that arose during Reveal’s investigation, the company issued a statement that read: “In our view, what they portray as investigative journalism is in fact an ideologically motivated attack by an extremist organization working directly with union supporters to create a calculated disinformation campaign against Tesla.”

Evans and Perry write:

Frantic growth, constant changes and lax rules, combined with a CEO whom senior managers were afraid to cross, created an atmosphere in which few dared to stand up for worker safety, the former environment, health and safety team members told Reveal.

And in addition to yellow, Musk was said to dislike too many signs in the factory and the warning beeps forklifts make when backing up, former team members said. His preferences, they said, were well known and led to cutting back on those standard safety signals.

“If someone said, ‘Elon doesn’t like something,’ you were concerned because you could lose your job,” said Susan Rigmaiden, former environmental compliance manager.

A few months into her job, White became so alarmed that she wrote to a human resources manager that “the risk of injury is too high. People are getting hurt every day and near-hit incidents where people are getting almost crushed or hit by cars is unacceptable.”

The next day, she emailed Sam Teller, Musk’s chief of staff, that safety team leaders were failing to address the hazards.

“I know what can keep a person up at night regarding safety,” she wrote. “I must tell you that I can’t sleep here at Tesla.”

She said she never heard back from Musk’s office. She transferred departments and quit a couple months later, disillusioned.

Read the full investigation at Reveal.

In other news:

Denver Post: Julie Carr Smyth writes that 50 years after the sanitation worker strikes in Memphis, trash collection continues to be one of the most dangerous jobs in America. To make the job safer, Smyth reports that the Solid Waste Association of North America and the National Waste & Recycling Association are working this year to pass legislation in 16 states that would enact penalties for drivers who don’t slow down and give garbage collectors enough space. Under the bill, drivers who don’t move over for a garbage truck could be fined $300 and charged with a moving violation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, garbage and recycling collection has the fifth highest death rate among all civilian occupations; in the first 10 days of 2018, seven sanitation workers were killed on the job, according to David Biderman, CEO of the solid waste association.

Capital & Main: David Bacon reports that over 1,000 farmworkers took the streets earlier this month in Salinas, California, to protest the Trump administration’s immigration raids. According to United Farm Workers (UFW), it was one of six such marches taking place in April in Washington, California and Texas. The marches come a month after the deaths of two farmworkers, Santo Hilario Garcia and Marcelina Garcia Porfecto, in Delano, California. The frightened couple drove into a utility pole after unmarked ICE vehicles stopped them; they both died in the crash, leaving behind six children. The marches also commemorated the birthday of Cesar Chavez, co-founder of UFW, which has distributed fliers in the fields telling workers, “Don’t sign anything and demand to speak with a lawyer. Take photographs, videos and notes about what happens, including names and license plates.” Bacon quoted UFW President Arturo Rodriguez, who said: “Santos Hilario Garcia and Marcelina Garcia Porfecto, and their six orphaned children, are casualties of the Trump administration’s targeting of hard-working immigrant farm workers who toil and sacrifice to feed all of us.”

Reuters: Daniel Wiessner reports that labor unions are bracing themselves as Republicans take control of the National Labor Relations Board. Earlier this month, the U.S. Senate voted along party lines to confirm John Ring, a management-side labor attorney nominated by President Trump, to fill a vacancy on the five-member board, giving Republicans a 3-2 advantage. The board had been deadlocked since December. Worker advocates worry that the board’s new make-up will make it even more difficult for unions and workers to organize and make it easier for employers to cut corners on labor law. The board has already been active in reversing Obama-era rules, such as an attempt to reverse a rule that would make it easier for workers to hold parent companies liable for labor violations by their contractors or franchisees. Wiessner writes: “Restricting unions’ ability to contact and organize workers could contribute to a decades-long slide in membership. Only 6.5 percent of private-sector workers are union members, down from more than one-third in the 1950s, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.”

New York Daily News: Reuven Blau reports that JetBlue flight attendants have successfully voted to unionize and join the Transport Workers Union. Workers voted 2,661 to 1,387 to join the union. Before the vote, Blau reports, workers said they hoped the union could negotiate a standard disciplinary process that would prevent supervisors from punishing attendants without proof. The article also noted that the airline company angered its workers after it began offering flyers $25 for turning in flight attendants who used their cell phones during flights. Blau quoted John Samuelsen, president of the union, who said: “This historic victory is yet another example of the tide turning in America as workers collectively fight back to defend their livelihoods. The United States trade union movement is the greatest vehicle for the economic security of working families that this country has ever seen, and more Americans are recognizing this every day.”

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