Tesla Berlin’s workers grumble at higher wages for hard-to-find newcomers

Germany’s biggest union in the automotive industry, IG Metall, warns of social tensions and disquiet at Tesla’s only European factory in Berlin. The American company tries to lure in new workers with higher paychecks than those of the 5 000 people already on the payroll and who earn not enough.

According to the union, discontent is growing on the work floor, not only because of the unequal salary policy but also because of low wages. Compared to other carmakers manufacturing in the states of Berlin and Brandenburg-Saksen, Tesla’s workforce receives 20% less.

The reputation has spread and created a problematic spiral for the company, which now can’t attract enough workforce for the projected 12 000 by the end of the year without raising the monthly payments, which in turn creates discomfort on site.

No structural agreement

As often with American companies, there’s no structural agreement with social partners to streamline the attributed wages. As a result, every staff member has to negotiate the paycheck themselves, worsening frictions. On top of that, there’s already a shortage of skilled workforce in the region, complicating the task of the human resource department.

The district head for IG Metall in Grünheide, Birgit Dietze, told the German newspaper Der Spiegel: “(…) we are increasingly getting feedback from the workforce that the recruitment of skilled workers is falling short of the targets set. This increases the pressure on the existing workforce and the mood.”

She adds, “It’s not a triviality when others suddenly earn more than you for the same work and qualifications.” Unfortunately, the CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, hasn’t been helping to solve the puzzle with some unsettling announcements on homeworking and hiring stops (see further). “This hasn’t gone down well with the workers on the assembly lines, nor with the engineers or managers,” concludes Dietze.

Workforce going to court

Workforce troubles are gripping Tesla also in its home country. Two sacked employees, which were part of the workforce of the Sparks factory in Nevada, are sewing the carmaker over unjust procedures. Although this is a lawful obligation, Tesla failed to announce the layoffs beforehand.

The company reorganized the factory and cut 500 of its staff loose. Some of them were informed on the spot that they needn’t come back the day after. The two workmen are taking to court and demand payment of sixty working days for themselves and the other affected workers.

‘Superbad feeling’

Elon Musk did announce some lousy news beginning this month for its HR department when he sent an e-mail stating that he had a “super bad feeling” about the global economy and that Tesla should brace for a 10% cut of salaried staff. The memo was titled “pause all hiring worldwide”.

As Dietze points out, that order doesn’t seem to apply to the factory in Grünheide, where an extra 500 to 600 people are monthly needed to ramp up production to 500 000 units annually. Currently, the plant churns out 1 000 Model Y’s daily, roughly 50 000 units per year. So, it still has a long way to go to get the necessary people on board to meet those tenfold higher targets.


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