City Attorney will ask the State Attorney to consider further investigation.
Our first article about the situation of Tesla employees at the distribution center in Lathrop was hard to write. An anonymous and alleged worker claimed Tesla was exposing them to the risk of COVID-19 infection with unnecessary work. The problem is that the message came on March 31, one day before April 1st. Could it be an April Fools' Prank? Someone trying to discredit our work?
Apart from our investigation, we asked our readers for help to get the truth in such a sensitive matter. They did not fail us. Unfortunately, this is not an article about how Tesla is protecting its employees, although it claims to be doing that. It is to tell how Tesla is not, in the words of other witnesses and employees.
As we mentioned in our previous article, we got in touch with Salvador Navarrete – Lathrop City Attorney – to confirm if he had exchanged email messages with our first anonymous source. Navarrete promised to get back to us and did not specifically confirm what we asked, but he sent us documents that prove the emails we received were not fake.
Lathrop City Attorney sent us five documents: California's "stay-at-home" order (Executive Order N-33-20), San Joaquin County's order, two letters from Tesla, and one from Lathrop County. We have decided to publish all letters in the gallery right below with the proper care not to disclose sensitive information of the people involved.
Gallery: Tesla Lathrop Employee Accuses Company Of Exposing Them To COVID-19 Risk
Both Tesla letters were written by Dan Chia, Tesla's senior manager for Business Development and Policy. The first, dated March 24, 2020, is addressed to Steve Salvatore, Lathrop City Manager. Check its content below – the bold is on us:
“Thank you for your ongoing support for Tesla and our employees as we work together to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 in our communities.
We are writing to confirm designation of Tesla’s operations in Lathrop, California as an Essential Business under the March 21, 2020, Order of the San Joaquin County Public Health Officer and Director of Emergency Services, and as Critical Infrastructure under Governor Newsom’s statewide Executive Order N-33-2020, issued on March 19, 2020 (“EO N-33-20”). As you know, Governor Newsom’s Order makes it clear that Tesla, as part of ‘vehicle manufacturing,’ ‘electric motor manufacturing,’ and the ‘energy sector,’ is obliged to continue operate as Critical Infrastructure.
Tesla is working hard to both limit the spread of the novel coronavirus, and act in the best interests of Tesla’s employees, our community, our state, and our nation. We have temporarily suspended some operations in Lathrop, except for those parts and supplies necessary for service, infrastructure and critical supply chains. All other personnel have been directed to stay home or work from home, if possible. For those functions where we are part of the national Critical Infrastructure, we are taking all recommended precautions to protect the health and safety of those continuing to work. All personnel on-site will be required to follow social distancing guidelines, and we have implemented preventative measures and hygiene practices including but not limited to increased cleaning in accordance with CDC guidelines. The City is welcome to visit our operations to observe our implementation of these safety measures.
With that, we are requesting that the City of Lathrop designate Tesla’s Lathrop operations as an Essential Business as part of the national Critical Infrastructure (sic). Please let me know if you would like to discuss further or have any questions about our continuing operations and safety measures.”
If there was any doubt if Tesla was under "conflicting guidance," this first letter shows Tesla did not wait for any guidance to express what it wanted to do. It requires "that the City of Lathrop designate Tesla's Lathrop operations as an Essential Business as part of the national Critical Infrastructure (sic)." In order words, it practically demands Salvatore to grant it that status implying that State and federal regulations supersede local rules. For short, Tesla wanted to remain open. Salvatore approves that request on the same day.
The second letter was addressed to the Lathrop City Councilmembers on March 30. Tesla recognizes there it was contacted by the anonymous employee. It starts like this – again, we have highlighted the most important parts:
“I am writing to respond to concerns expressed by someone representing to be a Tesla employee about our casting manufacturing operations occurring at 18280 Harlan Road in Lathrop. To be clear, we are not certain if this individual is actually a Tesla employee, but received a similar email from the same email address. Regardless, we are happy to can provide you with information about our operations and the COVID-19 measures we have implemented to protect our employees.”
Chia puts in doubt the fact that the person that got in touch with Tesla and us – identifying as Harlan Worker – is really a company employee. Nothing better than have this person answer:
“There really is a distribution center, but it’s just one part of Tesla Lathrop. What I do has nothing to do with distribution, I’m building car frames.”
There are many buildings at the Tesla Lathrop facility: Harlan, Nestle, Murphy, and probably others. Employees of each of them have no idea what the others do, something you will understand, further.
The second Tesla letter continues:
“We take the COVID-19 pandemic extremely seriously. As you may know, we have scaled back our Lathrop operations to just production of parts and supplies necessary for service, infrastructure, and critical supply chains. In those areas, please be assured that we continue to take all recommended precautions to protect the health and safety of those continuing to work in functions still operational, in accordance with CDC guidelines. We are not aware of any employee from any of our Lathrop facilities who have tested positive for COVID-19.”
According to Harlan Worker, that is not true:
“They haven’t asked us to go home. The only people who have gone home are office workers who can work from home but that’s a tiny portion of the workforce at Lathrop. Most of us work inside the warehouses and we’re all still working. Every building is open and running, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with distributing car parts. I don’t know what every building does, but I’m pretty sure there are other buildings that manufacture different parts. Either way, I know my building is still making car frames. Them saying they scaled back is a total lie. The parking lot is still as full as it always is. Everyone is basically still here.”
Another employee reinforces what Harlan Worker says. Since this person has not contacted Tesla directly, we will preserve all details that could help in identification and call this worker Lathrop2.
“I am a parent of X children and I been asked to go to work. We work mandatory 12-hour shifts and it’s impossible to keep distance from my co-workers. Most of us pack auto parts side by side for 12 hours.”
Tesla tries to clarify the measures it has taken to protect its employees at the Lathrop facility to councilmembers:
“We have implemented infrared temperature readings for all employees coming into the facility. These readings are being taken with digital medical-grade readers. If an employee has a high temperature or they refuse to have their temperature taken, we isolate the employee and contact our Human Resources team. Supervisors and supporting teams such as Environmental Health and Safety and Security have been updated and trained on scenario-specific protocols if an employee is not feeling well for any reason and the steps they must take if an employee discloses a COVID-19 exposure. Note that due to HIPPA privacy requirements, our management team cannot immediately discuss health or medical matters if a person goes home unless we receive approval from the proper teams. We are also supporting any employee’s decision to stay home if they feel unsafe, at risk, or to care for family members, and we have repeatedly communicated this in company emails, including the one shared by the concerned individual.
Moreover, we have also placed hand sanitizer wipes in high traffic areas including cafes, general entrances and administration areas with a notice to use these wipes upon entering and exiting the facility; suspended large meetings in conference rooms; and posted signs limiting the number of occupants in any room at a time. Social distancing has been enforced in the common eating areas by removing chairs and breaks have been staggered.”
Harlan Worker said that it is only partially correct.
“They added more hand sanitizer stations, added security guards to check temperatures, and I think they might have surgical masks available. Most people aren’t wearing even the surgical masks though. It’s really just the additional hand sanitizer stations and the temp check, but the temperature check seems wildly inaccurate: It’s read ten degrees under normal for me when I got scanned. Forcing people to eat alone in the cafe for social distancing isn’t true. People are still gathering in groups while they eat.”
Lathrop2 had something to say about this as well.
“At lunchtime, there are only three microwaves and everyone is standing behind each other waiting for their turn. I have noticed people coughing uncontrollably without a face mask.”
Concerning the "supporting any employee's decision to stay home" part, Harlan Worker told us this:
“The most frustrating thing about the email and the letter is where they say they’ve told employees we don’t have to come to work. Yes: Technically, they have. But they didn’t tell us if we will keep our jobs, if we can use paid leave, or if we can file unemployment. They still haven’t clarified that, even to the city council. Their statements about staying home have sounded, to me, vague and ominous. I definitely don’t feel free to stay home because they won’t explain what happens if we do. They are trying to get out of liability by saying they let us stay home and then completely ignoring all requests to define what staying home would actually mean. If they really want us to feel free to stay home, they’ll be clear about whether we can keep our jobs or file for unemployment.”
We often tell our readers Tesla does not get back to us. The most recent example is that it has not answered our questions regarding Lathrop. We know what it had to say thanks to Navarrete. Anyway, that is not a press privilege, according to these employees. Check what Harlan Worker said about this:
“They’re not very transparent with us either. Tesla is very private with their information. That’s why I don’t know much about what happens in some of the other buildings. And why they make us sign NDAs.”
Here we have a third worker who identifies as Tesla GDC Employee. GDC stands for Global Distribution Center. We have no idea if it is the name the company uses to refer to the Lathrop facility as a whole of to any of the buildings there.
Tesla GDC Employee shares the same impression Harlan Worker has on Tesla's transparency:
“Our Tesla supervisors and Warehouse Manager do not care to inform us or give the names of Tesla employees they’ve sent home due to a fever. Instead, we hear it from other employees or even from security. We’ve heard that some of the employees being sent home with fevers have also had family members that were tested positive with COVID-19.
There are many emails back and forth from supervisors and employees, from employees and Valerie Workman (ahead of Human Resources) explaining the discomfort being at work because we’re not being informed of who came to work with a fever or who was sent home with a fever or who might have been infected. We’ve expressed to supervisors and HR about receiving Hazard Pay, receiving a pay raise or even receiving a day of PTO everyday we work. We are glad to have a job, but obviously coming to work everyday is a health risk not just for ourselves but our families we have at home. When this subject has been brought up to supervisors, they don’t even give an answer: just make a stupid face and move on without answering.”
This other Tesla worker also had something to say regarding the measures the company has taken to prevent COVID-19 infection:
“We do not have an actual team that goes around sanitizing the warehouse or sanitizing people’s work areas on a regular daily basis. They do not provide masks or gloves to us but tell us to ‘ask for them and they will give them’ to us. When we do ask, they say they’ll get them and then forget even after multiple reminders.”
As you probably have already seen, Tesla's letter goes on. And it addresses another concern Harlan Worker expressed: getting to work. Here's what the letter says about that:
“Finally, the email also mentions ride-sharing. Tesla does provide Model X and Model S vehicles for employees who participate in ride-sharing, but we have relaxed our sharing requirements due to COVID-19. Drivers of ride-share vehicles are not required to have passengers at this time.”
At what time, precisely? According to Harlan Worker, very recently:
“I don’t use the rideshare program – so I’m not positive about how they pick people up – but I know they come to work in vans of like six people at a time. I just found out today that they are shutting down the rideshare program but this is happening just now. It seems to have been done just yesterday (April 1st, ironically) or the day before, after I reached out to the Lathrop city council and attorney. As of two days ago, rideshare was still operating even though people obviously can’t social distance within a van.”
The other workers did not mention the ride-sharing program, but a witness did, also on the condition that we keep this person's anonymity.
“I do not work at Tesla. But I did want to point out that the ride-sharing portion of your article is true. The bus was still driving around to pick up people in Tracy as of last week.
Also, your article points out that no one in Lathrop has died of COVID-19. However, a lot of their employees live all around San Joaquin County (Mountain House, Tracy & Stockton), where there have been reported deaths, Stockton primarily.”
Lathrop2 reports are concerning regarding a possible COVID-19 infection.
“I have taken it upon myself to stay home to keep my children safe. I have had a cough now for 3 weeks, I haven’t got tested for the virus because my doctor tells me that my cough is not severe. I wouldn’t want to walk into work and get anyone sick or infected.”
All these folks praise their jobs, hence the request to hide their names. Tesla GDC Employee seems to be the most enthusiastic one about Tesla. And also the most disappointed one.
“Please don’t get me wrong. I love my company. I love what the company is about and how they’re trying to make the world a better place. But how they are treating their employees, especially now at this time, is starting to show their true colors on what they think of their employees. It’s sad."
Just a little bit before we published this new article, Harlan Worker got in touch with hot news:
“I just wanted to give you an update. The City Attorney told me he asked the State Attorney General's Office to review my emails and consider further investigation. Also, I didn’t see this happen myself, but apparently yesterday (April 2) the sheriff came to walk through the Harlan warehouse and deemed it was not up to standard and said that it needed to be shut down. So today is supposed to be the last day Harlan building is doing any production, then we are closed due to the sheriff. To my knowledge, Harlan is the only building being shut down, though I could be wrong. You might be able to call the San Joaquin County sheriff to get more information since I wasn’t there and what I know is limited. But I do know, at least, Harlan building has now been ordered to close.”
We will get in touch with the San Joaquin sheriff to confirm the news Harlan Worker gave us. This Tesla employee ends the email message to us with a thank you message that we extend to all the other professionals that have covered this story.
“Thank you so much for your efforts in looking into this. I believe you and other journalists were likely instrumental in getting Harlan building investigated and closed. I’m very appreciative of your help.”
For the record, we want businesses to run as usual as soon as possible. We want the COVID-19 vaccines to prove effective. We want any medicine to be tested and proven useful swiftly. While that does not happen, we need companies to act in a responsible way, ensuring they suspend production or take all necessary precautions to guarantee it continues safely. Whatever this company is.