We Support Tesla Workers!

Buffalo, NY – Organizations from West Virginia to Montana, Pennsylvania to Kentucky, comprising of thousands of members, joined with The Clean Air Coalition today to show their support for workers organizing a union drive at Tesla Gigafactory 2.

Shortly after local Channel 4 WIBV broke the news of an organizing drive today, a joint letter was released by over a dozen community organizations located in coal mining communities across the country in support of the drive. (Read the Full Letter Here).

The letter states, “We support workers who are organizing a union at the Tesla Gigafactory in Buffalo, New York. We see the unionization of Tesla, and of the renewable sector, as a strategy to build a just and equitable renewable energy economy, an economy that provides generational sustaining careers as our energy system transitions.”

Located in the heart of the Rust Belt, the Tesla Gigafactory 2 is a photovoltaic (PV) cell factory that produces solar roofing tiles, which look like conventional black roof shingles but contain solar cells. The facility is located in Buffalo, New York, and built on land formerly occupied by the shuttered Republic Steel and Donner Hanna Coke sites.

“The Clean Air Coalition supports workers organizing at Tesla. This is an incredible opportunity to show the country what a sustainable green economy can look like for poor, working class people and people of color. We are motivated and excited by this chance to build something new that works for all of us, not just billionaires and developers,” says Linnea Brett, Community Organizer at Clean Air Coalition.

Tesla Was More Than a New Business Coming to Buffalo –

Tesla Was a Promise

The Tesla facility wasn’t just a state-funded renovation project: Buffalo Tesla was a promise of the new economy – jobs that not only sustain our families but also the environment, jobs that can literally power our homes and businesses.

The project was given $750 million in taxpayer funding to build a state-of-the-art solar production facility located at 1339 South Park Ave., Buffalo, NY 14220. The $750 million giveaway, part of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s highly criticized Buffalo Billion program, is 1.5 times the entire budget for the City of Buffalo.

The project promised to provide thousands of jobs throughout the state. At the time of the deal, Gov. Cuomo guaranteed 1,460 “direct manufacturing jobs at the new facility,” according to a press release issued by his office. Western New Yorkers were promised job training programs and “high road” jobs with family-supporting wages, as much as $65,000 per year. After Tesla acquired the Solar City facility, the company advertised job listings for primarily entry-level positions with wages as low as $14 an hour and limited benefits.

“This is about the deal that was promised to Western New York,” said worker and organizing committee member Curtis Johnson, who has worked for over 30 years in the manufacturing industry, “The deal was high road jobs. That was the promise.”

“The state invested $750 million in Tesla and it is imperative that the residents of Western New York have the opportunity for careers that sustain families. Unionization at this facility is crucial to providing jobs with good pay and benefits. Our community invested in Tesla. It’s time Tesla invested in our community,” said Rev. Kirk Laubenstein, Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Justice.

The promise began to crumble in the fall of 2017, when news broke that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara had opened an investigation into the Buffalo Billion bid selection process.

In July 2018, Alain Kaloyeros, who oversaw some of Gov. Cuomo’s top economic development projects as president of the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, the governmental organization tied to the Tesla building, was convicted of illegally steering hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of state-funded contracts to the governor’s friends and allies. A federal jury found Kaloyeros guilty of two counts of wire fraud and one count of wire fraud conspiracy after two days of deliberation. Yesterday he was sentenced to three and a half years in prison.

Louis Ciminelli, former president of Buffalo-based contractor LPCiminelli, was also found guilty of wire fraud conspiracy and wire fraud. LPCiminelli received the multi-million dollar contract to build the Tesla plant.

The Governor was not charged with any wrongdoing.

Tesla Reports Best Quarter for Solar

In a recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek, Tesla says it’s now exceeding its hiring commitments to the state. Bloomberg Business went on to report that “Musk assumed an optimistic note in a recent earnings call, boasting of his ‘best quarter ever for solar’ in terms of profitability, while assuring shareholders that Tesla would accelerate Solar Roof production in 2019.U.S. News notes that if Musk meets the goals and Tesla’s stock value rises during that time period, it “could net him more than $50 billion.”

While workers and community members celebrate news of a profitable quarter, it stands in stark contrast to the pay workers take home every week.

“Our wage package is much lower compared to other manufacturing jobs in the region,” said worker Rob Walsh. “We are worth more.

According to the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council’s 2018 Progress Report, the average advanced manufacturing career annual salary is $62,579, 114% more than the starting wage at Tesla.

“A union is a benefit for all of us and our families, the community as a whole,” said worker and organizing committee member Pete Farrell. “The people I work with are high quality people, people that take initiative, and that’s why we are organizing.”

Labor, Community and Environmental Justice Partnership Forges New Path

As the devastating impacts of climate change and the decline of the coal industry continue to shape our lives and communities, the transition of our energy economy becomes both increasingly urgent, and economically inevitable. New York State’s Clean Energy Mandate dictates that 50% of electricity consumed will come from renewable energy by 2030. The shifting energy economy in Buffalo is a reflection of national trends, where public and private investments in renewable energy continue to grow.

As our economy transitions and new workplaces emerge, workers still face the same basic set of concerns: a need for wages that can support families, job security, benefits and other basic protections. Buffalo Tesla workers see unionizing as their best chance at providing for themselves and their families while doing work they can be proud of. Local community and environmental organizations have come out in numbers to support Tesla workers and this organizing drive.

“The workers organizing at Tesla are on the front lines of making these promises to us, to our community, come true,” says Clean Air’s Linnea Brett. “As they move toward unionization, we are all stepping forward with them, making the promise of a new, green economy a reality.”

“I wanted to work at Tesla because I wanted a job in green energy, a job that can change the world,” said Rob Walsh, a Tesla worker and member of the union organizing committee.

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