U.S. Markets closed

Workers at Tesla’s solar factory in New York describe a racist workplace

Michael J. Coren

Employees at Tesla’s solar panel factory in Buffalo, New York describe a workplace beset with racism and discrimination complaints filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the state’s Division of Human Rights.

The investigation by News 4, a CBS news affiliate in Buffalo, depicts a segregated factory hostile to black and Hispanic workers where the n-word was routinely used by employees, and minorities were passed over for promotion. Perfunctory attempts to address the problem were not hepful, according to two workers interviewed by News 4 who were fired. In January, a wave of layoffs saw 57 jobs eliminated, but 80% of them were held by minorities.

Employees claimed it was not a coincidence. “During my employment, I frequently heard racial epithets and slurs,” a former worker wrote in a complaint reports News 4. “Whenever I brought concerns about racist comments to my supervisor, it appeared he would consult with the white co-workers but never with any of the affected black co-workers.”

The factory was part of Tesla’s controversial acquisition of SolarCity, a leading player in the rooftop solar industry. SolarCity was founded by Tesla CEO’s first-cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive. SolarCity’s huge debt load, questionable growth prospects, and family ties to Musk (as well as business ties to Tesla’s board) drew criticisms after the $2.23 billion acquisition was approved by Tesla’s board in 2016.

Tesla, which did not immediately respond to inquiries, was reportedly aware of the issues. Earlier this year, Musk wrote back to a former employee asking the CEO to look into issues at the Buffalo factory. According to News 4 reporter Dan Tevlok on Twitter, Musk wrote by email in February that he wished he could spend time on the issue, but had to prioritize service problems and delivering cars to Europe and China “or there will be no Tesla,” he wrote.

But the employee insisted “… someone should take some initiative seeing as it is part of the Tesla brand. This is not simply a case of one angry ex employee but one who was mentally and financially hurt by these 24 hour notice….As a minority, it is a struggle to find a place to work where I can be accepted and make a decent wage. I have never made more than my hourly wage at Tesla Buffalo. There are a lot of people with mouths to feed after these lay offs for business purposes and I am one of those.”

Musk, who visited the factory in April, reportedly responded: “I believe you,” he wrote. “We have a huge struggle right now to avoid being a money-losing company (aka not dead), but I’m hoping to visit Buffalo next quarter.”

Read the full investigation here.

 

Sign up for the Quartz Daily Brief, our free daily newsletter with the world’s most important and interesting news.

More stories from Quartz: