Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Elon Musk Rakes in Billions, Tesla Employees Forced Back to Work

Elon Musk received the first installment of what could be a $55.8 Billion compensation package this past May. Meanwhile, Tesla manufacturing workers have struggled since March to obtain unemployment benefits or recoup their stolen wages amidst layoffs, pay cuts, and unsafe (illegal) factory re-openings under COVID-19. 

Jayne Smith

September 19, 2020
Facebook Twitter Share
Tesla CEO Elon Musk is expected to receive up to $55 Billion in stock options.

As current and former Tesla workers face health risks and financial hardship during COVID-19, the electric car company just offered its CEO a massive payday. In May, Tesla posted its first annual profit in ten years as a public company (a pattern common amongst highly valued companies such as Uber and formerly WeWork). For Elon Musk, this achievement unlocked the first level of a generous compensation package that could altogether net him up to $55.8 billion in stock options should the company achieve a certain set of performance markers. 

Musk’s pay scheme — officially called the CEO Performance Award — is structured in twelve levels. Each level is “unlocked” as the Tesla meets a series of operational milestones and stock market capitalization goals, referring to the combined value of all of Tesla’s shares of stock. The first level, which was achieved at the end of May, when Tesla sustained six months of a $100B valuation, granted the emerald-heir-turned-CEO stock options potentially worth approximately $700 million. 

Meanwhile, furloughed Tesla manufacturing workers were told in May via emails retained by the Washington Post that their unemployment benefits may be suspended if they refused to return to the Fremont, California factory due to reopen. The majority of full-time workers among the factory’s ten thousand employees received sixty days of pay and benefits whereas some employees in part-time positions with full-time-equivalent hours received only two weeks’ pay. Those hesitant to violate local stay-at-home orders and resume work at risk of themselves and their families were informed by email that they would be on “unpaid leave.” Employees who did return faced pay cuts of ten percent that continued until the end of June. 

Tesla is known within the automotive industry for its strikingly high employee turnover; in 2018, Musk told employees in a company-wide email that an upcoming layoff was a “hard decision [made] so that we never have to make this decision again”. Tesla laid off 2 percent of its total workforce in 2017, then another seven and nine percent, respectively, in 2018, and an additional nine and eight percent, respectively, of upwards of percent of its yet another nine percent of employees in 2019. For a frame of reference, first-round 2019 layoffs brought Tesla’s total headcount to approximately forty-four thousand workers, and the second round subtracted another three to four thousand positions.

Stock options and performance-based grants have been available to Tesla workers on all levels for over a decade through their Employee Purchase Plan, which offers Tesla common stock at a discounted purchase price through accumulated payroll deductions. But between the company-wide pay cuts and the frequent layoffs in the last four years, Tesla’s Purchase Plan does not compensate employees for their lost wages.

 It is also worth noting that CEO Elon Musk publicly threatened via Twitter to remove stock options from its compensation packages if Tesla auto plant workers unionized in 2018. Other allegations of worker abuse in the last four years includes: racial discrimination, sexual harassment, unfair firings, union-busting, and threats of termination/ disciplinary action for use of paid sick days or maternity leave. 

But Tesla is hardly exceptional; the American working class has been stripped of its bargaining power and purchasing power over the last two decades through outsourcing, union-busting, and a growing “gig economy” fueled by precarious labor. So long as Tesla shareholders continue to profit, Elon Musk has shown that he holds little value for his workers’ health and safety. 

Facebook Twitter Share

Guest Posts

Haverford College student Kinnan Abdalhamid and Brown University students Tahseen Ahmed and Hisham Awartani, Palestinian college students who were shot in Burlington, Vermont.

Haverford Faculty for Justice in Palestine Releases Statement Supporting Pro-Palestinian Students

Haverford College Faculty for Justice in Palestine have published a statement following the shooting of three Palestinian students in Burlington, Vermont.

Balata Refugee camp in the West Bank, Palestine following a bombing in November 2023.

“No Wounded, Only Martyrs”: Night Shift Stories from a Nurse in the West Bank

A Palestinian nurse working in Nablus details his experience working the night shift in a hospital following the bombing of the Balata Refugee Camp.

Palestine Is a Worker Struggle: UAW Graduate Student Workers in California Show Solidarity with Palestine

UAW graduate students at the University of Southern California joined the walkout for Palestine during their picket line. U.S. labor must fight for Palestinian liberation!

Maryam Alaniz

November 16, 2023

When History Failed to Turn

One hundred years ago, a communist uprising took place in Hamburg. But the revolution in the rest of Germany was canceled.

Doug Enaa Greene

November 14, 2023


All That's Left, the podcast from Left Voice.

#AllThatsLeftPod: What the Historic UAW Victory Means for the Working Class

In this episode of the podcast, we discuss the historic UAW victory, its shortcomings, and the tasks for the future.

Left Voice

December 5, 2023

The New Hollywood McCarthyism Emerging Around Palestine

Over the past week, a new Hollywood McCarthyism has emerged: multiple people in Hollywood have jobs and representation over their support of Palestine. We must denounce and fight these attacks which weaken the movement and scare supporters into silence.

Sybil Davis

December 3, 2023
A UAW sign is held next to a "Free Palestine" sign

The UAW Has Called for a Ceasefire. It’s Time for All of Labor to Stand Up.

The UAW International union has joined calls for a ceasefire and is exploring how to divest from Israel. This is a step which should inspire union activists to take up the fight to bring their union into the fight against Israel's attack on Gaza and the struggle against imperialism.

Rose Lemlich

December 2, 2023

Robert Habeck Wrote a Play Praising a Right-Wing Mass Murderer

Germany's Green vice chancellor strikes many as an idealist who has been struggling with the tough realities of government. Yet before he was a national politician, he wrote a play that opens a window into a dark soul.

Nathaniel Flakin

December 1, 2023