Photo credits: Extreme Photographer

At its annual news conference, the German union IG Metall said a growing number of Tesla workers reported longer working hours with little free time.

IG Metall, with an office near the automaker’s plant in Brandenburg, is in regular contact with Tesla workers. ‘Tesla is not doing enough to improve working conditions and is leaving too little time for leisure, family and recovery’, said Irene Schulz of IG Metall Berlin-Brandenburg-Sachsen. According to the Union, workers are also increasingly fearful about discussing their working conditions openly because of non-disclosure agreements they were told to sign along with their work contracts. Two sources with knowledge of the matter said that Tesla China has also asked some staff to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Adding to these concerns, the carmaker advertised a new role on its website for a ‘Security Intelligence Investigator’. The job description states that the position involves partnering up with legal and human resources departments to carry out ‘collection of on-the-ground information both within and beyond Tesla walls in order to protect the company from threats’. Reuters found several people on LinkedIn with the title of ‘Security Intelligence Investigator’ working for Tesla in Shanghai, Austin and San Francisco. On Monday 16th of January, German business newspaper Handelsblatt reported that local politicians expressed concern about the allegations, calling for inquiries both by Tesla and the local government. ‘The state government of Brandenburg must enforce occupational safety through close controls at Tesla’, said Christian Baeumler of the Christian Democrats (CDU).

These practices are somewhat reminiscent of how Amazon dealt with unionization pushes in Europe. In 2020, several leaked internal reports revealed how the e-commerce giant relied on Intelligence analysts and even hired private detectives to monitor organized labor and social and environmental movements. One year later, Amazon was under the spotlight for running anti-union ads on its live-streaming platform Twitch.

Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk also made the news in October 2022 with his brutal take-over of the social network Twitter, leading to thousands of Twitter employees being laid off. In the run up to the layoffs, Twitter employees described worsening working conditions with long working hours and ‘work sprints’ over the weekend – echoing Tesla workers’ complaints to IG Metall. In fact, experts blame Elon Musk’s management style at Twitter for the electric carmaker’s financial problems. The company’s stock has lost more than half its value since the start of October and investors are worrying Twitter is taking much of Musk’s time.

An internal note seen by The New York Times on 11 January 2022 revealed Musk informed Twitter employees that he would prioritizes Tesla over Twitter. This reversal, together with the new job openings and workers’ complaints at Tesla, suggest that Musk’s strategy to turn around the company involve dreadful working conditions and the muzzle up of its employees.