Labor, environmental groups stand by former Tesla workers who filed EEOC complaints

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Groups call for Tesla to be held accountable for labor complaints

Labor and environmental groups joined forces Tuesday to send Tesla a strong message: the former workers who filed discrimination complaints against the Buffalo facility have their support.

Several local and national labor unions, environmental justice organizations and racial justice organizations signed a letter of support for the former Tesla workers.

News 4 Investigates reported Monday in an exclusive story that six former minority Tesla workers filed discrimination complaints with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the state Department of Human Rights.

The workers said in their complaints that the Tesla facility in Buffalo had a hostile work environment, where black employees frequently overheard white employees using the n-word and where white workers got promoted over African American and Hispanic workers.

The factory at Riverbend is the crown jewel of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Buffalo Billion economic development initiative, costing state taxpayers $958.6 million to build and equip the factory.

The following organizations signed the letter of support:

  • Clean Air Coalition of WNY
  • United Steelworkers
  • Binghamton Regional Sustainability Coalition
  • 350.org
  • The Labor Institute
  • The Labor Network for Sustainability
  • Movement Generation
  • Progressive Workers Union
  • Reverend George Nicholas, Buffalo, NY
  • Sane Energy Project
  • Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ)
  • Sunrise Movement

“Tesla needs to acknowledge the workplace culture of racism and discrimination, end the abuse, and repair the harm done, to workers of color in their facilities,” the letter states.

“We call on New York State and the Federal Government to hold Tesla accountable.”

Richard Lipsitz, president of the Western New York Area Labor Federation, said the charges filed by the former Tesla workers mirror other allegations at Tesla’s Fremont, California, electric car manufacturing facility.

The problems reported out of both factories are proof to him that Tesla needs to let workers unionize.

“When there’s a labor agreement in place, disputes can be resolved at the workplace without going to outside agencies of the government as part of a real benefit of having a union in the workplace,” he said. “You don’t have that at Tesla.”

Thanu Yakupitiyage, head of U.S. communications for the international nonprofit climate action group 350.org, said the country cannot transition workers to a renewable economy where there are conditions inside the plant that some former Tesla workers have described.

“The sheer abuse that these workers are facing is what strikes me, and these are people who are going to work every day who are trying to make a life for their families who are also interested in working in renewable industries,” she said.

“It is just completely unjust it is completely at odds for what we called for in terms of social justice.”

Linnea Brett, an organizer with the Clean Air Coalition of WNY, said $959 million in state taxpayer funds were used to build and equip the Buffalo factory. As a result, she contends that both Tesla and state government officials have an obligation to ensure the fair treatment of all workers.

“And we have a responsibility to hold them accountable for that, because if we don’t we’re complicit,” Brett said.

Tesla did not respond to numerous requests for comment.

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