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Tesla Temporarily Stops Model 3 Production Line (theverge.com)
98 points by scottie_m 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments

My father is a shop floor worker at a major car manufacturer.

Stopping a production line during a ramp up for days is a normal part of the business. When the line is already running, it is not the best of all news, because something malfunctioned -- like a big press putting errors into some bigger parts -- and needs to be reworked. Sometimes, however, they are reworking the line. So these stops are planned and there usually also exists a very detailed plan how to approach this. This is usually a high-stress situation due to a standing production line causing a loss to the company, and a separate specifically for this trained team is doing the rework with the workers being concerned with the parts of the production line being the 'consultants' to this other team. Resp., helping operationally. During the setup of the production line for a new model it is standing for weeks. Hence, no one is having unpaid enforced vacation whatsoever. At least in Germany.

Smells like clickbait here.

It doesn’t seem like your dad’s experience applies. Tesla workers are being asked to take vacation days or to stay home. It’s also the second stoppage in 2 months.


They cite BuzzFeed:

    BuzzFeed, which first reported the news, said
    workers were expected to use vacation days or
    stay home without pay during the four- to five-day
    production pause.
The thing is, during a ramp-up there are incentives to get the workers working seven days a week, because they want to minimize the time the line stands still. So usually he's taking that extra cash (and that's also how I found out, as I was wondering why he's gone for the weekends, too).

OK, so, I showed the article to my dad. He wasn't surprised at all and told me quite some stuff. Here is the summary of the interesting points:

* It is normal that people have (paid!) vacation when there is stuff to be done where maintenance only works. It is called 'Werksurlaub' (roughly: 'factory vacation') and this you-have-to-take-vacation-period is announced in the beginning of the year and it has been like that since 30 years him working there.

* When they need to retool, if possible (most of the time) the new tool is put in line behind the to-be-replaced tool without stopping the production line and then they run-in the new tool with taking over cycles gradually.

* When there are 'incidents' or the production line has to be stopped, this is announced ahead of time and the production workers have to take a so-called 'Kollektivfreischicht' (roughly: 'collective non-working shift'), where the whole line works overtime prior to the incident and then take time in lieu collectively. There is also a funny German word for this 'taking time in lieu', it is called '[Überstunden] abfeiern' (lit: 'to party down [overtime]').

Also, he told me some not very nice things about the automotive industry. Especially when final assembly is standing still (unforeseen incident in production line) - that is, hundreds of people unable to work and costing money. I interpret this, however, as general property of the (automotive) industry and you can read about it elsewhere.

You're talking about a German, highly regulated situation, which, while interesting, might not really apply to the situation in the US and more specifically at Tesla.

It's apparently quite sudden and unpaid, very different from your father's situation.

I agree. Nevertheless, considering the topic of being pushed/forced to take vacation because of maintenance: Same thing in 'traditional automotive industry' in Germany is my impression.

In American English, "Überstunden" is often called "comp time" - comp for compensation - you worked really hard overtime/to meet a deadline, take some paid days off (usually not officially vacation etc.) to make up for the time you spent...

wow, what a lousy cheap offer, if I turned up to work and they could not get the office door to open, I would go home and expect to get paid.

You're probably salaried. I suspect most factory jobs are hourly, or at least shift based.

I'm not but I know a few people, I spoke to my friend Tom who works in assembly with a machine that spits fire, if his machine breaks down while working, he goes home and they pay him the rest of the shift, maybe the UK is more reasonable about these kinds of things, how many days in a row would you turn up at work to not be able to do your job as a result of some cause you have no control over, I'm sticking with lousy, some very knowledgeable people over at the FT do a great deep dive on this story https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2018/04/18/1524069066000/Elon-s-...

Especially as they are still in the process of "debugging" the production line to achieve the planned production speeds, it should be no surprise that they might want to do some changes to the production line which would require stopping it while applying those changes. So these stops could be actually quite good news as the production should be boosted long term.

>Tesla, however, says this is part of a planned period of downtime that was similar to another shutdown in February, and it isn’t intended to have an affect on the company’s current production targets for the car.

This seems like a story that is being pushed just because sites know it will drive clicks but the actually news is well not really news.

The original article said this:

> The announcement of the four- to five-day production pause for the Model 3 came without warning, according to Tesla employees who spoke with BuzzFeed News. During the pause, workers are expected to use vacation days or stay home without pay; a small number of workers may be offered paid work elsewhere in the factory.


Wow. Tesla's really bad to their employees.

Well that's a bit more damning than what I read. That's a really shitty practice to do to their employees.

joblesness on demand

Many of those workers have probably been racking up the overtime, so the break shouldn't be bad financially and good for the mental health. But to do it without warning is really shitty: a little bit of warning would have let a proper vacation be planned. You know that vacation requests will be denied once it gets started again.

These kind of mindtricks to justify situations where workers are fucked is exactly the reason why I support laws that protect workers from this.

The other thing that I find really odd about American working conditions is that it seems quite routine for leave requests to be cancelled. What if you've already booked a holiday, or promised family you'll go somewhere?

Apple rumour sites always giddily report cancelled leave requests. I find it bizarre.

But don't you know that unions are extremist organizations? And there's a yellow pole in Tesla factory!


Most Americans are living paycheck to paycheck with less than $1000 cash in the accounts, and you think being forced to miss a week's pay with no notice isn't bad financially.

That's not what he said. He said that bc they have been working a lot of overtime lately, their paycheck will probably work out to be around the same as they would normally get. He also said it was shitty that they did it without warning.

But you already knew that. There's no reason to falsey attribute malice to what someone says just to flamebait.

No, what he said is they might average the same as their normal pay check but that doesn't mean that what they earn normally is necessary enough and that overtime is some kind of fun money.

What the person you responded to has pointed out is that a lot of workers do not earn enough to have savings. So waving away loss of income in such situations as just spending some money you might have earned previously is not exactly nice.

People who work in these types of industries _expect_ these work stoppages. Though obviously it's preferable to have a heads-up.

I have family members working on the new Vogtle Nuclear Power plants in Georgia. Week to week they never know for sure whether they'll be working 7 days, 3 days, or 0 days. Managers do try to plan work stoppages ahead of time, but it's not always practical or possible and workers know this. Except for the most junior guys everybody understands you need to prepare for stoppages, though that doesn't prevent many from crying foul. Wage workers do have it tough, but it's also true that poor planning skills exacerbate the situation, and all the overtime means you can't really compare the situation to a part-time, minimum wage worker who couldn't save money even if they tried.

It's hard to say, given how Tesla spins things sometimes, though. That said, a stoppage like this COULD be totally normal.

Seems to be the tactic of 90% of the news sites these days.

I’m surprised no one has mentioned the likely true reason behind this stoppage: the “burst rate” production and other shenanigans Tesla has put on at the end of its most recent quarters.

These tricks artificially boost its weekly production for the quarterly reports. After the cameras are off, the burned out workers and other resources need time to recuperate.

This shutdown period conveniently conceals this burnout. This is part of the shell games Tesla has played, robbing from its future self to manufacture the narrative it needs to maintain its share price in its stricken state.

Reminds me of working in a telecoms manufacturer in 2000 before the .com crash. There were times before end of quarter when unfinished devices were put in trucks and sent for a drive around town, to return after inspections were finished.

This sounds a bit speculative to me. I'd expect that if it were true you'd see some discontinuity in production rate from the last time they halted production. Doesn't seem to be the case.


If they "burst" 24/7 12 months a year then I'd just call it hauling ass.

That doesn't really make sense to me. Yes, the end of last quarter was a bit of a scramble to come close to their stated goals without necessarily making it sustainable.

But it is only really "robbing from its future self" if they don't end up sustaining them. My guess is that when production resumes, it will resume at a higher rate than the quarter end.

From the BuzzFeed article that is linked [0].

> During the pause, workers are expected to use vacation days or stay home without pay; a small number of workers may be offered paid work elsewhere in the factory.

For these downtimes that are planned by the company, is it typical across the industry that workers have to use vacation days or go without pay? Or is Tesla shortchanging workers relative to other car manufacturers?

0. https://www.buzzfeed.com/carolineodonovan/tesla-model-3-prod...

GM, for instance, has a shutdown almost every summer. It's usually around two weeks. It can be more, and a few workers stick around for the machines they can't really turn off. They also get to do some maintenance as well as let workers take time off in the summer, without affecting regular production.

Sometimes (when sales are slow and inventories are full) the shutdown lasts longer than two weeks.

To give a bit more context, hourly employees are laid off and draw unemployment during these planned shutdowns. It sounds super weird, but it's been happening for over 50 years, so everyone knows what they are getting into. The same hourly employees are hired back again at the end of the shutdown.

I'm not exactly sure what happens for downtime more than a couple shifts, but I'm sure the union remembers it in the next negotiations.

Lots of people who work construction draw all winter.

Where? Here in the D.C. area, construction does not stop because of weather. The exception would be extreme weather such as hurricanes, lightning and rain if the building was not closed in. It actually seems that construction increases in the winter, I guess because of fresh budgets. There is a joke that they only start breaking ground when it is the coldest time of the year.

This happens in DC too, although perhaps to a lesser extent due to your mild climate. Some construction continues through the winter, and most carpenters and laborers are happy to work instead of draw, but nobody is framing in the snow. It's true that excavation is easier when the ground isn't muddy, so "breaking ground" in the winter could make sense. You can't pour concrete when it's freezing, though, so if the timing is wrong the rain could mess up the excavation before you get a chance to place your forms.

It's pretty typical for auto companies to shut down for ~2 weeks over the summer and in December. Ford does the same thing. It gives the companies two big windows for planned maintenance on their machinery which helps the plants run more consistently the rest of the year.

Volvo's summer factory shutdown in Sweden is even longer.

Here's the UAW-FCA contract.[1] This would be a "temporary layoff" in a union plant. Beyond 10 days, different rules apply. Auto plants do this during model changeovers, so it's expected. Short layoffs are unpaid. Long layoffs come under the unemployment benefits provision.

Tesla's production engineering people probably need to rearrange the production line. By now, they should know where the trouble spots are.

[1] https://uaw.org/app/uploads/2017/03/2015-agreement-productio...

I've never heard of a company paying non-salary employees during a plant shutdown. (In the US, things may be different in Europe for all I know)

Am I wrong in assuming that factory workers are salaried?

I'm a industrial engineer and have worked at 4 factories and am familiar with far more. I don't know of a single company where production employees are paid salary.

I talked with a production employee about it when starting my current job. They said "man I could never work a salaried job. I'd get so frustrated with it".

There are pros and cons to the typical US salary structure.

* If the company gets too aggressive in the expectation of hours worked, people just leave since they're not getting overtime pay.

* I also have flexibility to start/end my day when I want within reason

* I never have to take time off for doctors visits

* I don't have a micro manager for a boss, so if I work 35 hours one week and 45 the next, nobody cares.

In the US, hourly employees get at least 1.5x pay for working beyond 40 hours. It's often cheaper to pay for overtime than expand the workforce, so some companies hand out OT like candy at a parade. An employee can double their pay by working 66 hours compared to just 40.

There are often also shift differentials. They might be a couple extra dollars/hour for nights and a couple extra for weekends.

Most salaried employees are "salary exempt" and are typically not paid overtime.

I believe there's no way in California for the kind of worker on Tesla's factory floor to be considered exempt, so he would almost certainly be getting overtime even if salaried. You could easily meet the 2x minimum wage annualized pay exemption, but the "administrative/executive" exemption would be an absurd stretch. A few people might meet professional exemption but probably not most of the workers, and the ones that do are likely already salaried. (I'm not a lawyer, particularly not an employment lawyer in California, though.)


* I also have flexibility to start/end my day when I want within reason

* I never have to take time off for doctors visits

* I don't have a micro manager for a boss, so if I work 35 hours one week and 45 the next, nobody cares.

I don't see how any of that is relevant to whether one has salary or not?

> I don't see how any of that is relevant to whether one has salary or not?

I suppose it's not specific to salary, more to the type of work. In the US with production workers, a salary would be quite unusual. I have friends working at many companies and have never heard of the production employees being salaried.

> * I also have flexibility to start/end my day when I want within reason

Generally production employees work specific shifts with specified start and end times. Showing up 15 minutes late yields a verbal warning, 1 point on a discipline tree, etc. This can happen with salary positions as well, but I can't say I've ever seen it. It's more a "get your work done" attitude than anything.

> * I never have to take time off for doctors visits

I should have said "If I get sick, my paycheck isn't any smaller because I had to go to the doctor or take 3 days off."

Yeah, exactly. All of this applies to me as well, in a salaried devops job.

Even some US tech companies have shutdowns between Christmas and New Year's and force everyone, including salaried employees, to take vacation or unpaid leave.

I would assume most union shops have protection against just "shutting down" suddenly and not paying employees.

Not really, other than future negotiations.

I suspected this might happen after Musk said that Tesla would be profitable soon.

If they’re losing money when they make cars, the logical choice should be to stop making cars. By doing so they should achieve profitability.

This is why Musk is an icon. He sees opportunities others don’t and is willing to defy convention.

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