Buried among the past week’s increasingly frantic headlines about the spread of COVID-19 was a story about a perennial source of both local hope and, in this case, shame: Tesla. In the story by the Reno Gazette Journal’s Anjeanette Damon, the electric car company’s history of a lax safety record and copious Occupational Safety and Health Administration violations were revealed in greater detail, as were the political means the company used to flout penalty fines—including the observable stonewalling of OSHA officials carrying a warrant to inspect the premises, and a call to Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford in an attempt to help keep the inspectors off their backs.
According to an earlier report by Damon, Tesla has paid $26,900 in fines since 2017, the ones it couldn’t get lowered or make disappear, despite averaging at least three 911 calls per month. In a particularly grisly detail, the story reports that three of the four fines that Tesla has paid are the result of workplace amputations.
Tesla came to town in 2014 with a grand vision for spearheading Reno’s new tech-friendly economy—and Reno bought it big. After securing $1.3 billion in tax breaks, the company started work on the massive Gigafactory in Storey County, which now employs an estimated 7,000 workers—most of whom are Nevada residents, in agreement with legal conditions imposed by the state.
Since then, Tesla has walked a fine line of delivering the improvements it promised, while presenting unforeseen problems for the city. The company pays approximately $30 dollars an hour to its employees—an undoubtedly attractive offer that has been, by and large, one of the greatest strains on the city’s housing supply and transportation systems, as it attracts workers from surrounding cities and states.
Even Elon Musk, the billionaire CEO of Tesla himself, has been unpredictable in his behavior—and hasn’t always inspired confidence. We didn’t like to see him smoking weed with Joe Rogan in 2018 while local employees are subject to drug testing—especially in a state where marijuana is legal. That same year, his Twitter antics led to charges by the Security and Exchange Commission, where his claim that he was going to take Tesla private resulted in a $20 million fine and his stepping down as chairman of his own company.
His misadventures with a submersible meant to help rescue the Thai boys soccer team trapped in a flooded cave, private space exploration company SpaceX, personal flamethrowers, Hyperloop transportation system and Boring Company (which was supposed to drill holes all over Los Angeles) make for an impressive resume, but for the inhabitants of a city whose financial future is so closely tied to Tesla’s success—he seems more than a little … distracted.
We’re happy to see Tesla paying high wages and investing in the community. What we don’t like is their hush-hush attitude about workplace safety, and our elected officials ready and willing to bail them out.