Elon Musk has just shown how the leader of a global company should behave. Last Sunday, the San Jose Mercury ran a feature story about Gregor Lesnik, an unemployed electrician from Slovenia who was recruited by a local construction company to go work in America. The INS was told he was a supervisor hired to oversee work at BMW’s South Carolina assembly plant where an upgrade to its paint shop was in progress. Instead, Lesnik and about 140 other workers from eastern Europe were sent to the Tesla factory in Fremont, California to install the heating and cooling systems at Tesla’s new paint facility.
While there, Lesnik and the others were treated more like slave labor than skilled workers. They often worked 12 hours a day 6 days a week. Sometimes they even worked on Sundays. They were paid less than $5 an hour and of course had no employee benefits. One fateful day, Lesnik stepped onto the roof of the building and stepped on a tile that was not properly fastened. He fell three stories to the factory floor. His injuries included two broken legs, several fractured ribs, a severely damaged arm, and a concussion.
Lesnik sued. Like all plaintiffs, his lawyer included as many companies as possible in the claim. Let the courts sort out who is responsible and who should pay. Tesla told the court that it had no business relationship with Lesnik. The court dismissed the case against Tesla, but Lesnik’s lawyer amended the complaint to bring them back in again.
The Mercury article was not really a hit piece against Elon Musk or Tesla. Rather it was intended to shine a spotlight on shoddy employment practices by contractors and sub-contractors who work for many of the world’s largest auto makers. It also gave the lie to the idea that INS has any idea who is in the country or why. But it certainly cast Tesla in an unfavorable light.
I wrote a story about this for Teslarati yesterday. It got quite a few comments, most of them supporting Tesla. The majority claimed that Tesla had no obligation to look into who was working at its facilities. This is the same line of reasoning that excuses companies like Apple for working conditions at F0xconn. For more on this subject, please see Naomi Klein’s excellent and exhaustively researched book, No Logo.
I had the temerity to suggest in a comment that if Elon Musk wants his company to be a global leader, he should see to it that Tesla acts like a global leader in all areas. That meas not taking a head in the sand approach to employment practices at its locations. My comment was not well received. It turns out Elon Musk agrees with me. On Monday, Tesla posted a lengthy response to the Mercury article on its blog. Here’s the first paragraph.
“At Tesla, we aspire to operate on the principles of hard work and exceptional performance, but always tempered by fairness, justice and kindness. There are times when mistakes are made, but those are the standards to which we hold ourselves. With respect to the person at the center of this weekend’s article in the Mercury News, those standards were not met. We are taking action to address this individual’s situation and to put in place additional oversight to ensure that our workplace rules are followed even by sub-subcontractors to prevent such a thing from happening again.”
Musk later tweeted a link to the blog post, showing the world that he fully supports the statements made on behalf of his company. In the US Navy, there is a long and valued tradition. When someone steps up and fulfills a mission in a way that goes above and beyond expectations, he or she receives a “Well done” from the commander. No long, flowery speeches or drama, but between Navy personnel, there is no higher accolade given or expected.
Let me take this opportunity to say this to Elon Musk. “Well done, sir.”