- Tesla has been accused of firing two workers who spoke out about conditions at its Fremont, California plant.
- However, the company said employees were fired because they didn’t show up to work, despite being told they didn’t need to if they had concerns over COVID-19.
- Conditions reported at the plant, and within the country, show that COVID-19 is still a real threat as cases continue to rise.
Tesla in the Era of COVID-19
Tesla is under scrutiny for firing two employees last week who allegedly failed to show up to work. However, those employees note that they were told they could stay home over COVID-19 concerns, and they believe they were really fired for speaking out about conditions at Tesla’s Fremont plant.
Since the June 16 firings, the company seems to have back-peddled on its decision, but concerns linger over how the company is dealing with COVID-19 at their plants in Fremont, California.
Back in March, Alameda County, the area where Tesla’s auto plants are located, issued some of the nation’s first stay-at-home orders. Elon Musk tried to keep the plant open, but in an email to employees, he explained that if workers felt uncomfortable or sick, they could stay home on unpaid leave.
Eventually, Alameda County cracked down and forced Tesla to limit its operations to just the ‘minimum basic operations.”
In early May, Musk decided to reopen the Tesla factory in direct defiance of the county’s orders. For a second time, he sent an email to employees stating “[if] you feel uncomfortable coming back to work at this time, please do not feel obligated to do so.”
Carlos Gabriel and Jessica Naro
The two employees who were fired are Carlos Gabriel and Jessica Naro.
They were officially released via email over a “Failure to Return to Work.” The emails, which have been viewed by outlets like The Washington Post, said that Tesla’s Human Resources had allegedly been trying to get in touch with the employees and couldn’t reach them.
However, both Gabriel and Naro were able to provide proof to Human Resources that they had continued communication with their managers for months. Gabriel even provided an email sent in May from Vince Woodard, Tesla’s acting Human Resource Director.
“Carlos, there is no need to feel that you are going to lose your job,” the email said. “If at this time you do not feel comfortable returning to work, you can stay home without penalty and take the time unpaid.“
Both employees were given the opportunity to dispute their termination and both took up that offer. Naro was eventually offered her position back, but in both the initial termination email and later talks, Tesla pushed to know when she would be coming back to work. This is how she described the exchange to The Mercury News:
“I actually spoke with a [supervisor] … and he said, ‘Do you have any idea when you’re gonna be returning back?’ and I said, ‘When covid-19 is over.’ ”
As for Gabriel, he hasn’t received his job back because Tesla’s Human Resources refused to allow him to record the call or move the conversation over to email. He made it clear to outlets that Tesla has lost his trust and that he couldn’t go back because of that, along with alleged unsafe conditions at the plant.
Their public and vocal concerns over those conditions are the reason Gabriel and Naro think they were actually fired. They spoke out about conditions at the Tesla Fremont plant at a news conference on June 15t, the day before their termination at Tesla. Although currently there is no other information at this time to corroborate those accusations.
Conditions in Fremont
Currently, conditions within the Tesla plants are a concern for many employees. Gabriel described the situation to The Mercury News as, “Some people don’t really care about wearing PPE. PPE is thrown on the ground after being used. People are afraid to go to the bathroom. People are afraid to eat.”
The Washington Post has reached out to about a half-dozen employees who corroborated their claims. Those workers, like Gabriel, claim that people don’t care to use personal protective equipment (PPE) at all, or use it improperly. According to The Washington Post, one employee named Branton Phillips said that the use of PPE was contentious at the factory, like in many parts of the country describing it like “you’re reflecting what’s outside in the world inside the plant.”
There are also alleged sanitation issues. Many employees claim that there is lax enforcement over actually cleaning equipment after it is used. Cleaning is usually done after lunch, but in some spots of the factory, multiple employees are constantly touching the same areas or items without consistent sanitation.
Additionally, social distancing isn’t being properly enforced. In some parts of the factory, it’s understandably much more difficult to social distance, such as on the vehicle assembly line. Yet in instances where social distancing should be possible, it still doesn’t happen. Employees claim that during in-person team meetings, people are usually three feet apart, rather than the recommended six.
Tesla is also accused of not being transparent over potential cases of COVID-19 in their plants. Employees claim they have no idea how many cases of COVID-19 have actually been at the Fremont plants. Sometimes coworkers will disappear for two weeks, and their colleagues are only told they’re “sick.” Managers counter and say they can’t disclose medical information.
But even rough numbers of cases aren’t told to workers. Employees at Tesla’s seat plant, which is down the road from the main facility, were comparatively in-the-know about COVID-19 at Tesla’s factories. They were told that there were two cases of COVID-19 leading to at least three exposures.
Alameda and California Concerns
Criticisms over a lack of transparency also applies to Alameda County, which hasn’t released information about any cases of the coronavirus at Tesla.
However, on June 23, a spokesperson for the county said, “Tesla is reporting their cases among employees directly to [the Alameda County Public Health Department] as required by their Site Specific Plan, which is also a requirement for all businesses that are reopening.”
She added the county was working on getting more information out, given the public interest in the situation. Yet, Tesla is just the tip of the iceberg for Alameda County, which is among the hardest-hit counties in California.
This week, it hit over 5,000 cases, and in general, California has seen a massive spike in cases. On June 23, there were nearly 7,150 new cases of the coronavirus within the state, and for weeks now the number of new cases has been rising.
In response, Governor Gavin Newsom declared last week that face masks are required in public spaces. That order is likely to face backlash in rural parts of the state, as well as highly populated areas like Orange County and the Inland Empire; both of which have populations that pushed back against county-imposed mask requirements.
Despite this, the state has reopened in a lot of ways. Currently, nearly every business is allowed to be open, aside from businesses like night clubs and bars, among a few others. However, businesses that remain open are allowed to with some caveats like social distancing.
That may soon change, in a press conference held on June 22, Newsom said that he was prepared to “revert back” to more strict coronavirus restrictions. The governor also added that while the state is capable of reverting restrictions, Californians could avoid it by “…being a little bit more thoughtful about how we go about our day-to-day lives.”
It’s not just California that has seen a spike in new cases either. Oklahoma, Florida, and other states also reported new records of daily cases. This week, the United States as a whole broke its previous daily new case record.
These recent spikes are primarily located in Southern and Western states, but there is some good news. Some previously hard-hit places, like New York and New Jersey, have managed to keep their cases under control.
On June 23, Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a Capitol Hill hearing that states may want to consider being flexible with their reopening plans in response to new cases, and added:
“I wouldn’t necessarily say an absolute shutdown, lockdown, but if someone is going from gateway to Phase 1 to Phase 2 and they get into trouble in Phase 2, they may need to go back to Phase 1, ” he explained.
And states are doing just that. In addition to California: Louisiana, Oregon, North Carolina, and Kansas have all announced delays in their reopening schedules.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Florida School Says Students Vaccinated Against COVID-19 Must Stay Home for 30 Days
The school falsely claimed that people who have just been vaccinated risk “shedding” the coronavirus and could infect others.
Centner Academy Vaccination Policy
A private school in Florida is now requiring all students who get vaccinated against COVID-19 to quarantine for 30 days before returning to class.
According to the local Miami outlet WSVN, Centner Academy wrote a letter to parents last week describing COVID vaccines as “experimental” and citing anti-vaccine misinformation.
“If you are considering the vaccine for your Centner Academy student(s), we ask that you hold off until the Summer when there will be time for the potential transmission or shedding onto others to decrease,” the letter reportedly stated.
“Because of the potential impact on other students and our school community, vaccinated students will need to stay at home for 30 days post-vaccination for each dose and booster they receive and may return to school after 30 days as long as the student is healthy and symptom-free.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has debunked the false claim that those newly vaccinated against COVID-19 can “shed” the virus.
According to the agency’s COVID myths page, vaccine shedding “can only occur when a vaccine contains a weakened version of the virus,” but “none of the authorized COVID-19 vaccines in the United States contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. This means that a COVID-19 vaccine cannot make you sick with COVID-19.”
In fact, early research has suggested that vaccinated people are less likely to spread the virus than unvaccinated people.
Beyond that, unvaccinated people are more likely to spread COVID in general because they are much more likely to get the virus than vaccinated people. According to recently published CDC data, as of August, unvaccinated people were six times more likely to get COVID than vaccinated people and 11 times more likely to die from the virus.
Centner Academy Continues Spread of Misinformation
In a statement to The Washington Post Monday, Centner Academy co-founder David Centner doubled down on the school’s new policy, which he described as a “precautionary measure” based on “numerous anecdotal cases that have been in circulation.”
“The school is not opining as to whether unexplained phenomena have a basis in fact, however we prefer to err on the side of caution when making decisions that impact the health of the school community,” he added.
The new rule echoes similar efforts Centner Academy has made that run counter to public health guidance and scientific knowledge.
In April, the school made headlines when its leadership told vaccinated school employees that they were not allowed to be in contact with any students “until more information is known” and encouraged employees to wait until summer to get the jab.
According to The New York Times, the following week, a math and science teacher allegedly told students not to hug their vaccinated parents for more than five seconds.
The outlet also reported that the school’s other co-founder, Leila Centner, discouraged masking, but when state health officials came for routine inspections, teachers said they were directed in a WhatsApp group to put masks on.
See what others are saying: (WSVN) (The Washington Post) (Business Insider)
Katie Couric Says She Edited Ruth Bader Ginsburg Quote About Athletes Kneeling During National Anthem
Couric said she omitted part of a 2016 interview in order to “protect” the justice.
Kate Couric Edited Quote From Justice Ginsburg
In her upcoming book, journalist Katie Couric admitted to editing a quote from Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in 2016 in order to “protect” Ginsberg from potential criticism.
Couric interviewed the late justice for an article in Yahoo News. During their discussion, she asked Ginsburg about her thoughts on athletes like Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the national anthem to protest racial inequality.
“I think it’s really dumb of them,” Ginsburg is quoted saying in the piece. “Would I arrest them for doing it? No. I think it’s dumb and disrespectful. I would have the same answer if you asked me about flag burning. I think it’s a terrible thing to do, but I wouldn’t lock a person up for doing it. I would point out how ridiculous it seems to me to do such an act.”
According to The Daily Mail and The New York Post, which obtained advance copies of Couric’s book “Going There,” there was more to Ginsburg’s response. Couric wrote that she omitted a portion where Ginsburg said the form of protest showed a “contempt for a government that has made it possible for their parents and grandparents to live a decent life…Which they probably could not have lived in the places they came from.“
Couric Says She Lost Sleep Making Choice
“As they became older they realize that this was youthful folly,” Ginsberg reportedly continued. “And that’s why education is important.“
According to The Daily Mail, Couric wrote that the Supreme Court’s head of public affairs sent an email asking to remove comments about kneeling because Ginsburg had misspoken. Couric reportedly added that she felt a need to “protect” the justice, thinking she may not have understood the question. Couric reached out to her friend, New York Times reporter David Brooks, regarding the matter and he allegedly likewise believed she may have been confused by the subject.
Couric also wrote that she was a “big RBG fan” and felt her comments were “unworthy of a crusader for equality.” Because she knew the remarks could land Ginsburg in hot water, she said she “lost a lot of sleep” and felt “conflicted” about whether or not to edit them out.
Couric was trending on Twitter Wednesday and Thursday as people questioned the ethics behind her choice to ultimately cut part of the quote. Some thought the move showed a lack of journalistic integrity while others thought revealing the story now harmed Ginsburg’s legacy.
See what others are saying: (New York Post) (The Daily Mail) (Insider)
Biden Administration Orders ICE To Halt Workplace Raids
The Department of Homeland Security will now focus on targeting employers who exploit undocumented workers, instead of carrying out raids that dissuade those workers from reporting labor violations.
DHS Reverses Worksite Raid Policy
The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it was ordering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to stop workplace raids.
The move marks a reversal from Trump administration policies that have been strongly criticized by immigration activists who argue the efforts created fear in immigrant communities and dissuaded them from reporting labor violations or exploitative employment practices.
In addition to stopping the raids, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a memo that the administration will refocus enforcement efforts to instead target “employers who exploit unauthorized workers, conduct illegal activities or impose unsafe working conditions.”
Mayorkas added that the immigration agencies housed in DHS will have the next 60 days to identify harmful existing policies and come up with new ones that provide better deportation protections for workers who report their employers.
In the Tuesday memo, the secretary argued that shift of focus will “reduce the demand for illegal employment by delivering more severe consequences to exploitative employers” and “increase the willingness of workers to report violations of law by exploitative employers and cooperate in employment and labor standards investigation.”
Labor Market Implications
The new policy comes at a time when the U.S. is experiencing a critical labor shortage, including in many sectors that rely on immigrant labor.
Some companies that use undocumented workers pay them wages that are far below the market rate, which is not only exploitative but also undercuts competitors.
According to Mayorkas, the pivot to employer-based enforcement will help protect American businesses.
“By exploiting undocumented workers and paying them substandard wages, the unscrupulous employers create an unfair labor market,” he said in the memo. “They also unfairly drive down their costs and disadvantage their business competitors who abide by the law.”
It is currently unclear how effective the new efforts will be, but historical precedent does not paint an optimistic picture.
The Biden administration’s efforts closely mirror a similar move by the Obama administration, which attempted to reverse workplace raids authorized under President George W. Bush by targetting those who employ undocumented workers rather than the workers themselves.
That effort, however, still led to thousands of undocumented workers being fired.