Tesla defends itself against allegations that it fired employees over union push

Tesla has released a blog post defending itself against allegations that it fired employees at Gigafactory New York over a push to unionize.

As we reported earlier this week, workers doing Autopilot data annotation at Gigafactory New York announced their intent to unionize.

Yesterday, the organizers behind the unionization effort filed a complaint with the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) claiming that Tesla fired dozens of employees at the plant in retaliation for the union push.

Tesla didn’t comment on the stories coming out based on the NLRB complaint this morning, but the automaker has now put together a blog post claiming that the layoffs were planned before the company was made aware of the unionization effort.

The automaker laid out the following chronology of events leading up to the layoffs:

  • Tesla conducts performance review cycles every six months. Employees receive a performance rating from 1 to 5 in each cycle that helps them calibrate their work with the expectations of their job. In the worst case, if an employee fails to meet their performance expectations they will be let go.
  • This review process takes place globally, including in North America, Europe, China, etc. It is not localized to Buffalo.
  • The most recent performance review cycle was from July 2022 through December 2022. On December 13th, 2022, managers across the company received a communication regarding the review schedule. This included information noting that exits for low performers would start the week of February 12, 2023.
  • Approximately 4% of the employees on the Autopilot labeling team in Buffalo were exited as a result of this performance review cycle. The employees let go as part of this process received prior feedback on their poor performance from their managers over the course of the review period. Despite feedback, they did not demonstrate sufficient improvement.
  • The impacted employees were identified on February 3, 2023, which was well before the union campaign was announced. We became aware of organizing activities approximately 10 days later. We learned in hindsight that one out of the 27 impacted employees officially identified as part of the union campaign. This exercise pre-dated any union campaign.
  • The labeling team in Buffalo, New York, has been growing over the last several months at an average rate of around 10 employees a week. Over the last six months, the department’s employee base has grown 54%, from 437 employees to 675 employees as of the beginning of this week.
  • The reason there is time monitoring for image labeling is to improve the ease of use of our labeling software. Since its purpose is to calculate how long it takes to label and image, there is nothing to be gained by delaying bathroom breaks. The claim that Tesla pressures employees to do so is categorically false.

Electrek’s Take

While the automaker certainly has an anti-union history and the timing looks horrible, I tend to believe Tesla on this one.

In December, we reported that Tesla was planning a new wave of layoffs in Q1. This matches Tesla’s timeline of events here.

It certainly doesn’t look good, but I think it all adds up. What do you think? Let us know in the comments section below.

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