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Tesla Inc.’s Workplace Safety Conflict

Tesla Inc. was founded by Elon Musk in 2003 and has become one of the most innovative companies on the market. The organization is engaged in the “design, development, manufacture, and sale of fully electric vehicles, energy generation and storage systems” (“Tesla Inc,” n. d.). Tesla provides service and charging stations for electric vehicles around the world. The company is also engaged in the development and sale of solar panels, as well as the storage and sale of energy generated by them. Tesla’s market capitalization is currently $ 783.1B, and the revenue for 2018 is over $ 21B (“Tesla Inc,” n. d.). The company is headquartered in Palo Alto, California, in the heart of Silicon Valley. In 2019, Tesla employed 48 million people, including in the company’s numerous factories and plants (“Tesla Inc,” n. d.). Thus, the organization is one of the largest not only in the US but throughout the world, with massive incomes and a significant number of workers.

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Conflict

For such a large company, quality standards are always high, as are the working conditions. However, Tesla has had problems with occupational safety for many years, in particular with the number of working hours and concern for the health of employees. The situation was widely reported by the media and attracted the attention of the authorities, which had little effect on the state of affairs. The core of the conflict is that employees at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, report “a culture of long hours under intense pressure, sometimes through pain and injury” (Wong, 2017). Workers complain that despite building an innovative factory of the future, Tesla does not care about their health and well-being.

The founder and CEO of the company, Elon Musk, spoke in public speeches about a rejection of capitalist principles. He also emphasized that his company does not support harsh working conditions to achieve business goals. However, the situation is related to how much money the organization is losing, and the primary concern of the founder is to maintain growth rates. Thus, the conditions at the factory did not support Musk, who considers it necessary.

In 2018, the investigation also revealed that there were no changes to the working conditions at the factory. Even when Access Omnicare offered to help the organization reduce injuries and emergency room visits in the factory, the improvements were short-lived (Evans, 2018). Rehabilitation and first aid programs which were beneficial to injured workers were soon canceled by management. Musk called the accusations unfounded and promised to solve the problem as soon as possible. However, clinics which were soon opened either refused to help workers or made minimal efforts. Calling 911 was banned, as their records became public, which the organization would not want. Both the injured workers and the doctors who operated in the clinic in the factories were under constant pressure from the management. Employees’ complaints to the California workplace safety agency did not yield any results.

The reason for this conflict is the company’s desire to rapidly grow profits and market capitalization to finance other, more ambitious projects of Musk. The organization neglects spending to protect and maintain the health of workers and manipulates statistics to avoid penalties. The production of electric cars was not as fast and profitable in the beginning as the businessman hoped. Thus, he decided to compensate for the shortcomings and difficulties existing in manufacturing with excessive human labor.

Application of Sociological Theories

The described conflict can be viewed through the perspective of three sociological theories: classical, functionalist, and symbolic interactionism. The characteristics of the theories differ markedly from each other, which emphasizes different aspects as the most significant for each of them. Considering the basics of various approaches allows examining a possible solution accounting for different variables. Thus, it is necessary to explain each theory and determine whether they offer strategies for resolving the conflict.

Classical Theory

Marx viewed sociological processes in terms of capitalism and the fundamental division of society into classes, which lead to the division of labor. Thus, the central idea of ​​the philosopher is the difference in power between owners, managers, and employees (Haveman & Wetts, 2018). According to this approach, the workplace is inevitably a source of conflict and discomfort for the employee. At the same time, more senior members of society exploit it to preserve their place. Marx also described the processes of alienation of the employee from the work process, which lead to dissatisfaction with the activity. Although the classical sociological theory belongs not only to this philosopher, he is considered as the founder; therefore, his ideas are essential.

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In relation to the described conflict of Tesla’s workers, the criticism of capitalism by classical theory is important. It is implied that large corporations pressure their employees, ignore injuries, generate profits, and maximize productivity. As noted, Musk describes himself as an opponent of capitalism, but the situation in the factory suggests otherwise. The classical theory can offer a solution to the problem in the form of greater participation of the company in the lives of workers. Despite the organization’s drive for profit, the safety of people must be put first. The more satisfied they are with the working conditions, the more productivity they will show. The impact of the theory on the outcome of the conflict is represented in the change of goals from capitalist to more socially oriented, which will increase the company’s authority in society.

Functionalism

The functionalists paid particular attention to organization and conflict, expressing more positive opinions. This theory emphasizes the importance of conflicts for the company’s operational processes and development. Philosophers also proposed several types of disagreements, each of which has its own nature and results. In particular, relationship conflicts occur “when there are interpersonal incompatibilities arising from differences in personality or opposing values” (Mikkelsen & Clegg, 2017, p. 3). This type of disagreement is viewed as destructive because it has a negative impact on performance. In contrast to the task conflict, the relationship conflict does not imply a positive overcoming and the opening of new prospects.

The described conflict is based on the contradiction between the values ​​of the employees and the owner, which makes it destructive. As the classical theory, functionalism offers a solution exclusively in the form of elimination of existing disagreements. Tesla needs to pay more attention to the interests of workers, and not just the business since they are the basis of manufacturing. The impact of the theory on the outcome of the conflict may consist of building a more efficient production chain by considering workers as functional elements of a system with special needs.

Symbolic Interactionism

Symbolic interactionism looks at how people interact in the workplace and how they relate to their work. From the perspective of this approach, it is extremely important how employees respond to problems arising in the course of their activities (Quist-Adade, 2019). Both social interaction and satisfaction of needs and values ​​influence how they perceive their workplace. Low decision-making authority and the inability to participate in the team negatively affect the productivity of employees. In the conflict described, it is noted that factory workers tried to contact the union for help, but they were refused (Evans, 2018). This illustrates their lack of ability to cope with emerging problems and make decisions. This alienation makes workers less satisfied, as they cannot ensure their own safety and depend on the employer. Thus, the theory offers a solution in the form of expanding the decision-making authority of workers so that they can independently influence the situation. The impact of the theory on the outcome can consist in creating an integrated team which, through interaction, mitigates emerging problems. The result will help both resolve the conflict and facilitate decision making for managers.

Recommendations

The case with the described conflict in Tesla is complex on the one hand but easily solvable on the other. Management of the organization needs to pay attention to improving the transparency of injury reporting, providing necessary medical care to workers, and mitigating working conditions. In the longer term, the innovative company must implement changes in the production process, making it less traumatic for employees.

Conclusion

The workplace safety conflict at Tesla illustrates the value mismatch between the business and its employees. Profit is essential for management, while workers want decent working conditions. Classical, fundamentalist, and symbolic interactionist theories view the problem from different perspectives but agree on the need to eliminate such a conflict. Thus, only a more attentive and sensitive management policy in relation to workplace safety can help maintain productivity in the Tesla factory.

References

Evans, W. (2018). Inside Tesla’s factory, a medical clinic designed to ignore injured workers. Reveal. Web.

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Haveman, H. A., & Wetts, R. (2018). Organizational theory: From classical sociology to the 1970s. Sociology Compass, 13(3), 1-14. Web.

Mikkelsen, N., & Clegg, S. (2017). Conceptions of conflict in organizational conflict research: Toward critical reflexivity. Journal of Management Enquiry, 28(2), 166-179. Web.

Quist-Adade, C. (2019). Symbolic interactionism: The basics. Vernon Press.

Tesla Inc. (n. d.). CNN Business. Web.

Wong, J. C. (2017). Tesla factory workers reveal pain, injury and stress: ‘Everything feels like the future but us’. The Guardian. Web.

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