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Tesla’s Silicon Valley factory workers get hurt a lot

On Tuesday, Tesla swapped out its HR chief amid a fight against the unionization effort at its Silicon Valley factory. And the latest news only makes things worse.

A report released Wednesday cites OSHA figures that affirm what workers have been saying about injuries at the electric carmaker’s flagship factory, in Fremont, California. The numbers in the new report, by Worksafe, show that the rate of nonfatal injuries there has been well above the national average over the past few years.

Employees at Fremont have said they’ve seen coworkers on the assembly line “hit the floor like a pancake and smash their face open,” and others describe hearing “coworkers quietly say that they are hurting but they are too afraid to report it for fear of being labeled as a complainer or bad worker by management.”

The injury report factors in as Tesla battles a union drive from a United Auto Workers–organized group at the Fremont factory, which CEO Elon Musk has personally condemned. In mid-April, workers filed charges against Tesla with the National Labor Relations Board for anti-union organizing.

The company said in a blog post Tuesday evening that it was replacing its longtime HR chief, Arnnon Geshuri, with Electronic Arts executive Gaby Toledano. The move follows the departures earlier this year of two other Tesla HR executives, according to BuzzFeed News. But a Tesla spokesperson said the move was unrelated to workplace safety and the union drive, and emailed VICE News a company blog post from earlier this month, highlighting the following passage:

“We may have had some challenges in the past as we were learning how to become a car company, but what matters is the future, and with the changes we’ve made, we now have the lowest injury rate in the industry by far,” it read.

Worksafe, a California-based workplace safety organization, says it got the OSHA numbers from Tesla workers at Fremont who’d requested them this year. The group’s analysis says that Tesla’s total recordable injuries rate (TIRR) in 2015 was 8.8 injuries per 100 workers, which is 31 percent higher than the industry rate of 6.7 injuries per 100 workers.

In 2016, the TIRR was 8.1 injuries per 100 workers, although industrywide figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for that time will not be available until later this year. For injuries that require “days away from work, restricted duty, or job transfer,” Tesla’s DART rate of 7.9 in 2015 was the 2015 industry average of 3.9; that number fell to 7.3 in 2016.

A Tesla spokesperson told VICE News that the company’s most recent data from the Fremont factory shows a TIRR rate of 4.6 percent, which is 32 percent below the 2015 industry average. The spokesperson added that the recent changes in HR leadership are unrelated to the ongoing controversy over workplace safety and culture at Tesla.

“We made an effort to verify [Tesla’s] claim,” said Doug Parker, Worksafe’s executive director and a former official at the Mine Safety and Health Administration, on a press call. Parker added that this was because Tesla’s data did not include total hours worked in 2017, downtime on the assembly line, and other factors.

Though it’s been three and a half months since workers went public with their unionization effort at the Fremont Tesla facility, the company’s financial performance hasn’t really taken a hit. Tesla continues to lose a lot of money and take thousands of pre-orders for its cars, and Wall Street doesn’t seem to care.

As of Wednesday mid-afternoon, Tesla stock was trading at around $308 a share, up more than 1.6 percent on the day, and more than 10 percent since the union drive went public.

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