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Tesla Motors Standing at the Intersection of Labor and Environment
by R. Robertson
Sunday Jan 10th, 2010 2:58 PM
When cutting edge company Tesla Motors introduced its all-electric car in 2006, much excitement was generated in environmentalist camps. The base line price of the Tesla Roadster exceeds $100,000 putting it out of reach for the vast majority of consumers, but Tesla vows to bring the price down with new production facilities. Can Tesla do justice to the needs of both environment and labor with its selection of a manufacturing site?

Photo: Demonstrators in front of Tesla showroom in Menlo Park, California demand that the auto company locate manufacturing at an environmentally safe site. January, 2010.
Tesla Motors has taken off with record speed paralleled by the car it produces; MotorTrend, which performed the first independent instrumented testing of Tesla's Roadster, confirmed the company's reported 0-60 mph time of 3.7 seconds.

Environmentalists, who lauded Tesla's all-electric cars as a big step toward the reduction of oil dependence, were all aglow when Tesla displayed a prototype Roadster at the annual EV (Electric Vehicle) rally in Palo Alto in 2006. Reporters and car enthusiasts, including a Japanese TV crew, surrounded Tesla's display bowing heads deep under an open hood. At that event environmental activist singers the Raging Grannies belted out praise for EV's singing "Daisy Daisy, EV's are good for you...other cars just spew lots of CO2".

Now Tesla stands at the intersection of doing what is right for the environment and what is good for labor as they choose amongst several sites for manufacturing. After abandoning plans to locate in San Jose, Tesla may be zeroing in on the potentially worker illness inducing Downey California brownfield site. Meanwhile, a NUMMI manufacturing plant in Fremont, close to Tesla headquarters, doesn't make Tesla's radar. Unionized workers will all be jobless with the closing of NUMMI on April 1.

Tesla may no longer be the darlings of environmental activists if they choose to ignore labor issues. The irony is that Tesla's concern for environment as it relates to worker well-being is now being put to the test.

The Raging Grannies, always good at summarizing the hard issues, spoke of Tesla's situation in song in front of a showroom filled with Roadsters in Menlo Park on January 9, 2009. From their song to the tune of Battle Hymn of the Republic came these words:

"They will profit untold millions, hefty bonuses they'll earn, but without the workers' muscle not a single wheel can turn."