Nov 16, 2022 - News

Workers claim unpaid wages and unsafe conditions at Tesla buildout

Photo of the Tesla factory in Austin under construction.

The Tesla Gigafactory under construction in Austin in October 2021. Photo: Mark Felix/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Workers who helped build Tesla's Austin gigafactory are alleging wage and safety violations by their employers.

Driving the news: On Tuesday, workers filed a pair of complaints, one claiming employers involved with site construction violated federal minimum wage and overtime pay laws and another alleging falsified safety credentials.

Why it matters: The allegations shine a light on conditions for workers serving at the bottom of the tech pyramid.

Details: In the first letter, workers say they either did not receive any pay for work performed or were deprived of overtime pay.

  • "Workers reported being promised a non-discretionary double pay bonus if they worked Thursday-Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend 2021 but did not receive this rate after sacrificing time with their families to build the Tesla Gigafactory," per a Tuesday letter from Hannah Alexander, a staff attorney with Austin-based Workers Defense Project, to Nicole Sellers, an Austin-based official with the U.S. Department of Labor.
  • Alexander told Axios the complaints are based on claims from "a couple dozen" workers.

Meanwhile: On Tuesday, the Workers Defense Project also wrote to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration about alleged fake certificates of completion for required training that a worker named Victor says never took place.

What they're saying: Victor — whose last name has been withheld from the complaint — told the Guardian that his team was directed to work on the metal factory roof at night with no lights.

  • Victor said he and his colleagues were also expected to continue work on a flooded first floor — despite observing wiring in the water. He told his wife, per the Guardian: "I'm going to die in this factory."

Worth noting: The complaints do not name the contractor and subcontractors who employed the workers.

  • Alexander told Axios that the Workers Defense Project is keeping those details confidential so as not to hamper any potential federal investigation.
  • Asked if Tesla itself was a direct employer, Alexander said: "They as the developer had a lot of power to ensure violations on the worksite did not occur."

The other side: Tesla officials did not respond Tuesday to an Axios interview request.

Flashback: In the fall of 2021, the Texas Anti-Poverty Project 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 speak only Spanish.

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