Is This the Best Tesla Deal the County Could Reach? Our Community Deserves More.

The following letter was sent on July 13, 2020 to Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe and Commissioners Gerald Daugherty, Margaret Gómez, Brigid Shea and Jeff Travillion.

On Friday night, after 8 p.m., the County finally disclosed some details about its agreement with Tesla in exchange for incentives. The Commissioners Court is set to act on it on Tuesday.

Why has the community been left in the dark up until 72 hours before the vote? We know Tesla and the County have been in talks since at least May, when Commissioners approved a two-month lifting of last year’s moratorium on corporate incentives. It was only on June 23 that the deal was openly discussed in the Commissioners Court, and then under the code name “Colorado River Project, LLC.”

In the deal documents, County staff suggests that there was extensive public comment on the Tesla deal, citing the number of comments at previous meetings. However, all public comment has been in the absence of any details of the proposed deal, and indeed many of the comments were pleas for more information and a transparent process. And now, with the release of this backup, there still is no meaningful information shared and no transparency.

Most importantly, a large number of commenters asked the County to ensure that, in exchange for our taxpayer dollars, Tesla commit to a set of specific legally enforceable Community Assurances requiring fair wages, worker safety, independent monitoring, recruiting of minority and disadvantaged workers and environmental protections. 

Our community needs answers. Why are the County Judge and County Commissioners waiving wage and safety standards they currently require through Travis County policy for Tesla, a company who was placed on the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health’s dirty dozen list in 2018?

County policy requires living wages for construction, operational and contract employees for economic incentive agreements. Why shouldn’t Tesla adhere to the same standard and provide living wages for ALL workers? The County also requires Better Builder® protections for construction workers on many projects, and the County has particular expertise in monitoring and enforcing these requirements. The Better Builder® program requires basic workplace standards including a minimum wage floor, workers compensation, safety training, goals for utilizing workforce training programs and independent on-site monitoring. Unfortunately, it appears that the Judge and County Commissioners are allowing Tesla to write its own ticket and exempt itself from County policy applicable to everyone else. Why is the county willing to exempt Tesla from providing these basic workplace standards? Why won’t the County require its own Contract Compliance program? Why aren’t our construction workers deserving of safety protections and robust enforcement?

Tesla promises to create 5,001 jobs by 2024. There is no indication of how many of these jobs, or whether any of these jobs, are permanent positions. Travis County needs to insure that Tesla will create good, family-sustaining jobs, and not “perma-temp” positions. 

 A hard sell in the deal document is that this incentive will benefit unemployed Travis County residents, estimated to be 80,000+ individuals. If so, why is Tesla required to only fill 50% of the required jobs with Travis County residents? This deal means that Tesla will make a difference to only 3% of our unemployed neighbors.

The $15/hour floor for Tesla workers is totally inadequate. Average wages in the auto assembly sector across the U.S. greatly exceed that amount. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage in May 2019 for production occupations in Motor Vehicle Manufacturing was $23.93. This includes all union and non-union plants. And Tesla has confirmed that the $15 minimum will not apply to contract workers, such as food service and janitorial workers, who have made up a large number of operational, construction, food and other workers at Tesla’s other plants.

 Why is Tesla refusing to issue an employment plan for the gigafactory, with details of numbers of jobs by classification, straight time wages, benefit levels and details of benefit programs, a worker training budget, etc? Taxpayers have been given nothing but aggregate numbers and vague assurances.

The document shows few environmental protections. While the commitment to meeting “green” building code standards is a welcome development, we have been asking for weeks for more details and commitments. Tesla portrays itself as a green company and above its peers in the auto industry. But it cannot disclose information or commit to specifics regarding key issues such as water and electricity usage, carbon footprint, air emissions, access to the river, wastewater discharge, solid waste management, chemical use, storage and disposal?

We ask the Judge and County Commissioners to delay the vote on Tuesday and not support this agreement until Tesla sits down with the community and can demonstrate they’re meeting the needs of our County. 

Respectfully, 

AFSCME 1624
Austin Central Labor Council
Central Texas Interfaith 
Del Valle Educators Association 
IUPAT District Council 88
LIUNA 1095
Texas AFL-CIO
Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter
United Auto Workers
Unite HERE
Workers Defense Action Fund