Oct 20, 2021 - Business

Exclusive: Grassroots group raises concerns over Tesla hirings

A photo of construction at the site of Tesla's proposed gigafactory in Austin.

The Tesla Inc. factory under construction on Harold Green Road and State Highway 130 in Austin on Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. Photo: Bronte Wittpenn/Bloomberg via Getty Images

One grassroots group has raised concerns with Tesla leadership over hiring practices at the company's new Austin gigafactory, urging the car manufacturer to improve opportunities for residents who only speak Spanish.

The big picture: Tesla, which recently announced it will move its headquarters to Austin, will employ at least 5,000 workers at the new plant.

  • The hiring process has already begun, and many of the jobs at the plant require only a high school education. CEO Elon Musk said he doesn't care "if you even graduated high school" to get a job at Tesla.
  • The company listed 364 Austin-based jobs on its website Tuesday.

But Texas Anti-Poverty Project, a group created by Austin Independent School District trustee Ofelia Maldonado Zapata, is worried that Tesla lacks opportunities for Spanish speakers.

  • Tesla officials and Travis County representatives meet with the anti-poverty group once a month to discuss the company's Austin hiring practices, Zapata said. In their second meeting, Tesla representatives said they do not provide bilingual staff to translate for Spanish speakers at the plant.
  • "We all found out — even the county did not know — that [Tesla said] basically, 'We don't hire Spanish speakers,'" Zapata told Axios. "It's like what? How can you build a plant in an area that is high [in] Spanish speakers when they’re probably the ones building the plant."

Flashback: Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered Tesla to pay $137 million in damages to a Black former employee who accused the company of ignoring the racist abuse he endured from other workers.

  • Zapata said the lawsuit raised red flags for the anti-poverty group, making it all the more important to meet with Tesla representatives.

Tesla did not return Axios' requests for comment. A spokesperson for the county also declined to comment.

Yes, but: Tesla is working with the anti-poverty group to create a program to help workers learn English for their job.

  • Zapata argues the plan doesn't go far enough: "To me, it's the long way to figure it out."

What's next: The anti-poverty project plans to meet with city council members and county commissioners to discuss future incentives with companies moving to the area and the enforcement of those agreements.

  • "I want this to be the platform for incentive deals with companies, where residents come and this is a way we can ask them questions that the community is concerned about," Zapata added.

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