If you're a company that wants to change the world for the better, maybe it's best to start at your own workplace.
An explosive new report out of Buffalo reveals that Tesla's workplaces aren't quite the utopia that the company has sought out to create, with a former employee telling WIVB 4 that the racial tension inside of the company's Buffalo plant got so bad that the lunchroom and assembly line became "naturally segregated".
The former minority worker said: “We had to sit in the back of the cafeteria, they sat up front. It wasn’t that they said we had to, but that was the aura of the place because if we went up front it was like we was out of place, everybody looking at you like we’re the side show, we’re the clowns.”
The employee called the plant a "very racist place". In fact, a racially charged message was found in a bathroom last year and Tesla had to "scramble" to assemble a "diversity meeting" that minority workers described as "unhelpful". The message, scribbled on a bathroom poster, said: “get rid of all the [n-word]s and Jews.”
“It was a complete joke,” said an African-American former employee about the meeting. Another former minority employee said: “I, like other workers of color, felt that the meeting about the racist note was ineffective and barely scratched the surface about the racism at the plant.”
One African American employee said she applied for a promotion but lost the job to a white female employee who was allegedly given an advantage by being briefed by her white supervisor. Eventually, a black worker got one of the promoted positions, but it was on an undesirable overnight shift that paid $6 per hour less.
Six former minority employees at Tesla's plant in Buffalo filed discrimination complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state Division of Human Rights, the report found. WIVB interviewed two of them.
The interviews revealed a "hostile work environment" where black workers frequently heard white employees using the n-word and where white workers were promoted over more qualified minority employees.
Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, said the complaints describe an “out-of-control workforce where racism and discrimination appears to be unfettered.”
Some former employees allege that management at the factory used the company's global layoffs in January as a way to get rid of black and Hispanic workers who complained about racism and hostility. WIVB found that Tesla had fired all six employees who complained or were included in complaints. Of the 57 employees laid off earlier this year, about 80% were minorities, the report found.
The complaints have prompted a "pending investigation" from the Attorney General's Office, whose lawyers have already interviewed some workers at the plant.
“I don’t like to pull the race card, if you will. I didn’t want to jump right to race, but all in all, I feel like that’s absolutely what it was,” one former female African-American worker said.
All six former workers who complained said they heard white co-workers making racist comments toward African-Americans and Hispanic workers. One female worker said that she often heard co-workers refer to African Americans as "lazy".
“The knowledge that this sort of behavior appeared to be permitted in the factory would cause me stress and anxiety during my time working there,” one Hispanic former worker said in their complaint.
One former Hispanic male worker said that he was referred to as "the lazy Puerto Rican".
“During my employment, I frequently heard racial epithets and slurs. 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,” he said.
One African-American worker said that team leaders would ask minorities to do menial tasks, like take out the trash, “while white co-workers appeared to be standing around doing nothing.”
“Months later, after white co-workers complained about the team lead’s apparent intoxication on the job, he was finally moved to a maintenance position,” one complaint said.
“For instance, I recall myself and other black co-workers complaining about a white, female co-worker who used the n-word frequently being moved to a different division but ultimately promoted in my division to a maintenance technician,” one African American worker said.
Another African-American male said that a black female worker told him that while showing a white co-worker a picture of her grandchild, the white co-worker referred to him as a "cute little monkey".
“In one incident, one of the white leads claimed in the white team lead’s defense that he’s street like that, that’s how he talks,” one former worker said.
Recall, Tesla's Buffalo plant was built and equipped with $959 million in state taxpayer funds.