By Mike Talavera
Electric car manufacturer Tesla, run by the high-profile billionaire Elon Musk, is currently in negotiations with Travis County and the Del Valle School District to secure tens of millions of dollars in tax breaks for the “Gigafactory” it wants to build in the neglected eastern part of the county. Residents, the majority of them working class Chicanos and Latino immigrants, have expressed anger at the possible deal which they see as the local government serving the rich corporation instead of the poor working class people who live in the area.
“Instead of fixing this neighborhood, they’re just going to sell it,” a Chicano man named Chris, who lives near the proposed site for the plant, told Tribune.
Tesla representatives and local officials are promising the community 5,000 new jobs and intern opportunities for students, but during public meetings last week residents exposed Tesla’s bad labor practices and accused them of choosing Del Valle to get away with paying low wages. Tesla has said that it would pay entry-level positions $15/hour, but the high cost of living in Travis County makes this rate fall far short of what would be considered a living wage.
“Don’t fall for the TV advertisement. Look at their past actions,” resident Manuel Quinto-Pozos said at the Del Valle school board meeting last Thursday.
Musk has branded the company as eco-friendly and has stylized Tesla cars and trucks as futuristic, but the future for the people in Nevada since winning the bid for Tesla’s battery factory in 2014 has been bleak. The state granted the largest tax abatement in its history for the project, $1.3 billion dollars, but what it got for those who would work at the factory was misery. In 2018, one investigative report showed 911 calls from the Gigafactory occurred daily for medical emergencies, workplace injuries, drug abuse, and suicide attempts.
With the lack of tax revenue from the deal, Nevada state and local agencies have been unable to provide sufficient housing, healthcare, or other amenities for these suffering workers. In Reno, where many of the Gigafactory workers live, there was a 300% increase in no-cause evictions from 2012 to 2017 and rent prices have likewise skyrocketed. Some factory workers live in tents or RVs parked at local Wal-marts.
At the Del Valle school board meeting, Quinto-Pozos also cited a chemical spill that occurred at the Nevada factory in 2017, an accident which contradicts Tesla’s image of caring about the environment.
The fallout in Nevada is in line with Tesla’s history of neglecting, exploiting, and abusing its own workers. Last year a California judge ruled that Musk and other executives had illegally attempted to sabotage efforts by Tesla workers to form a union. Security guards have harassed workers handing out literature, repeatedly interrogated organizers, and even retaliated by firing one organizer.
“Accidents happen every day,” Tesla workers in Fremont wrote in 2017. “Severe incidents frequently impact morale and cause delays in production. We are losing great workers who are valuable to both our production team and to their families while they spend time on medical leave, recovering from preventable injuries.”
The coronavirus pandemic has only made things worse for Tesla workers. Musk sued Alameda county in California to reopen his factory in Fremont, despite health concerns. Part of the incentive of building a factory in Texas has been the state’s weak response in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
Travis County and Del Valle officials want to make Musk, one of the richest men in the world, even richer at the expense of residents, who are being priced out of the county already. One couple named Ben and Norma told Tribune they’ve lived in Del Valle their whole life but are being forced to sell and move. When they complained to the county about water issues and other problems, they were ignored. “Travis County said we don’t count,” Norma said.
There is no reason Tesla should get a break on taxes when these poor conditions exist. Residents are right to demand that the company pays their fair share, especially when Tesla has shown with its factory in Nevada that it doesn’t follow through on all of its promises and ends up creating more trouble for the local population. One report by the Reno Gazette Journal showed that the state’s tax-relief approach to companies like Tesla only resulted in a fraction of the jobs promised.
Tesla representatives said last week that Travis County has moved to the top of their candidate list for the new factory. If the company does make the move, local workers won’t be able to count on local government for support, when these politicians and career bureaucrats have already clearly chosen to fill Musk’s pockets while physically endangering residents through the workplace injuries, environmental contamination, and gentrification that the factory will bring.
The struggles of Tesla workers in California show that unions can also not be relied on to defend workers’ lives. To protect their livelihoods, workers must recognize that Tesla and government officials are part of the ruling class. Fighting for workers necessarily means fighting against the capitalists and their lapdogs and fighting for the proletariat as a whole.