Ever wonder what it’s like to work at Tesla, the biggest, most exciting car company in the world? Elon Musk is known for setting lofty goals and expecting nothing short of perfection from his workers. He often urges his employees to go “super hardcore” or “ultra hardcore” — an ethos he recently brought to X / Twitter.
But that ethos has real-world implications for the people who work at Tesla. For the second episode of Land of the Giants: The Tesla Shock Wave, we talked to the employees who often bear the brunt of this “hardcore” work culture. And their stories may shock you: extremely long hours, unsafe working conditions, harassment, scandals, fines, lawsuits, and above all else, a fear that one false slip will lead to termination.
“It became all-consuming,” says Huibert Mees, chief engineer on the Model S suspension who worked at Tesla for over five years. “You put in the hours and it was weekends and it was 8, 9, 10 at night every night.”
Like other Tesla workers, Mees acknowledges that Tesla likely wouldn’t have survived if not for this aggressiveness. And in the early days, a lot of it was very fulfilling, working with a small team to build a truly innovative product that was disrupting an entire industry.
“It became all-consuming.”
But for many, that hardcore philosophy bordered on abuse. Tesla employees would sleep on the floor after working upward of 12-hour-long shifts. Workers were fainting from dehydration. One man’s leg was crushed by a car coming down the assembly line. There were fires and a burst sewage pipe, forcing employees to wade through waste.
An investigation found that Tesla’s Fremont, California, plant had three times as many Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety violations as 10 other US car factories combined. Injuries were higher than the national average, and training was shorter. And Tesla was found to have repeatedly misclassified and underreported injuries at its facilities in California and Nevada.
And then there were the allegations of racist and sexist abuse hurled at workers of color and women. Several lawsuits have been filed, though Tesla denies the accusations.
“My supervisor called me the n-word right in front of other co-workers,” said Melvin Berry, who worked as a supervisor at Tesla from 2015 to 2016. “And when I heard it, I had to make sure I heard what I heard.”