Tesla's Model 3 'Production Hell' May Raise Tensions Between Carmaker, Workers

Will the production ramp lead employees to favor unionization in greater numbers?

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Tesla is about to enter what CEO Elon Musk dramatically calls "production hell," the push to ramp up production of the Model 3 and ultimately meet Musk's goal of producing 500,000 cars per year by next year. That represents a massive increase over Tesla's current production rateā€”and it may aggravate tensions with workers, according to the The Daily Beast. While Tesla workers have talked of unionization before, the increased strain of "production hell" may add new urgency to that debate, the website reports.

Even at Tesla's current production rate, workers are subjected to an intense amount of physical labor, claims The Daily Beast, which reported worker complaints of herniated disks, carpal tunnel, and tendonitis.

Workers also told The Daily Beast that Tesla management has tried to instill fear of unions in workers, slowing down the unionization effort.

Tesla's Fremont, California, factory was previously New United Motor Manufacturing Incorporated (NUMMI), a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota. After GM pulled out, NUMMI became Toyota's only unionized U.S. factory. But it closed shortly after Toyota became sole operator. Tesla officials use the closure as an example of the potential harm of unions, according to The Daily Beast

One worker also said Tesla interfered with employees handing out pro-union flyers. When asked by The Daily Beast about the worker allegations, a Tesla spokesperson provided a statement the company issued in February.

"As California's largest manufacturing employer and a company that has created thousands of quality jobs here in the Bay Area, this is not the first time we have been the target of a professional union organizing effort such as this," the spokesperson said. "The safety and job satisfaction of our employees here at Tesla has always been extremely important to us. We have a long history of engaging directly with our employees on the issues that matter to them, and we will continue to do so because it's the right thing to do."

The unionization effort took a more public turn in February, when Tesla employee Jose Moran posted an open letter on Medium describing low wages, injuries, and mandatory overtime. Tesla CEO Musk subsequently implied that Moran was paid by the United Auto Workers to join Tesla and agitate for unionization, although the UAW denied this.