Tesla says recent layoffs at its Buffalo, New York facility were part of a routine performance review cycle and that it is “false” that it fired employees in response to a new union campaign. The Workers United union previously alleged in a complaint filed with the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) that the company fired dozens of employees at the plant “in retaliation for union activity” just one day after workers announced plans to organize.
In a statement posted to its website titled “In Response to False Allegations,” Tesla said it identified impacted employees 10 days before the unionization plans were announced, and that it only learned “in hindsight” that one of the 27 employees identified as part of the union. Plans to layoff employees the week of February 12th were apparently communicated to managers in December last year.
“Tesla conducts performance review cycles every six months,” Tesla wrote in its statement, “If an employee fails to meet their performance expectations they will be let go.” It added that it is “categorically false” that employees are pressured to delay bathroom breaks, one of the allegations previously reported by Bloomberg.
Tesla Workers United, the group of workers attempting to unionize in Buffalo, did not immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment. Attempts to contact Tesla when the allegations first surfaced went unanswered. The company is widely reported to have disbanded its press relations team in 2020.
The layoffs in the Buffalo facility, also known as Gigafactory 2, affected around four percent of Tesla’s Autopilot labeling team, the company says. Similar layoffs hit the company’s Autopilot labeling team in California last June, when nearly 200 employees were terminated. In December, Electrek reported on a forthcoming round of layoffs that Tesla would be conducting in the first quarter of 2023.
However, one Gigafactory 2 employee who was part of the union organizing committee said they was told they were “exceeding expectations” prior to being fired by Tesla. “I got covid and was out of the office, then I had to take a bereavement leave. I returned to work, was told I was exceeding expectations and then Wednesday came along,” Arian Berek said in a Workers United press release sent to The Verge following the layoffs. “I strongly feel this is in retaliation to the committee announcement and it’s shameful.”