Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Tesla Unionizer Returns Fire After Elon Musk 'Trashes' Him

  • Worker says he’s getting support from the United Auto Workers
  • Musk calls post ‘morally outrageous’ in messages to Gizmodo

Jose Moran commutes more than an hour from California’s Central Valley to Tesla Inc.’s Fremont factory every morning for a shift that usually starts around 5:25 a.m. and ends in the late afternoon. His Thursday was anything but typical.

The 43-year-old father of two started the day passing around copies of his post on the publishing service Medium, which called for forming a union at Tesla’s lone auto assembly plant. By the evening, Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk was criticizing Moran and the United Auto Workers in Twitter messages with a tech blog.

Moran alleged challenging working conditions and organizational issues within a factory under the microscope like never before. The plant is preparing to make the Model 3, Tesla’s first affordable electric car and the linchpin of Musk’s ambitions to reach the mainstream auto market. The CEO went on the defensive Thursday, writing in direct messages to Gizmodo that Moran may have been paid by the UAW to push for a union at Fremont.

“I’ve been a loyal employee of Tesla for 4 1/2 years, sometimes working six days a week, 12 hours a day,” Moran, a production associate on Body Line 1 within the factory, said in a phone interview. “I’m not an employee of the UAW, but we get support from the UAW. For Musk to try to trash me down like that -- it’s too bad.”

Higher Costs

Tesla has flagged to investors for years the risk of higher costs and work stoppages that could arise if a union organizes the Fremont plant. The Palo Alto, California-based company employs more than 5,000 workers at the factory.

“He doesn’t really work for us, he works for the UAW,” Musk said of Moran in direct messages on Twitter to Gizmodo. “Frankly, I find this attack to be morally outrageous. Tesla is the last car company left in California, because costs are so high.”

The UAW, which represents workers at General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV factories across the U.S., said Musk’s assertion that Moran was on the union’s payroll was “fake news.”

“Mr. Moran is not and has not been paid by the UAW,” the union said in a statement. The UAW said it hopes Tesla apologizes to Moran and confirmed he and others at Tesla have approached the union. “We welcome them with open arms,” the UAW said.

Deeper Issues

The UAW has largely failed to organize Japanese, German or Korean auto plants in the U.S. The union used to represent workers at the Fremont factory when then-General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp. occupied the facility through a joint venture. Moran said he worked at the plant under Toyota and GM in the 1990s.

Moran wrote in his post that Tesla pays production workers between $17 and $21 an hour on average, less than the living wage necessary for the high-cost Bay Area. He also cited problems with production including machinery that’s hard on employees’ bodies to operate.

“The issues go much deeper than just fair pay,” he wrote. “Injuries, poor morale, unfair promotions, high turnover, and other issues aren’t just bad for workers -- they also impact the quality and speed of production. They can’t be resolved without workers having a voice and being included in the process.”