Ex-Tesla workers describe 'production hell': working in raw sewage, sleeping on the factory floor

Tesla workers described their experience at the automaker in a podcast with The Verge. Michael Macor/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
  • Tesla workers described what it was like to work through "production hell" in a new podcast.
  • The ex-Tesla workers told The Verge that they worked long hours and faced high pressure to deliver.
  • One worker said he had to work through a raw sewage leak, a claim the company has previously denied.

Tesla workers shared their experience working at the automaker during Elon Musk's stretches of "hardcore" production in a recent podcast from The Verge.

In an episode of "Land of the Giants," some former Tesla employees talked about what it was like to see people collapsing from what they said was dehydration — or sleeping on the factory floor after 12-hour shifts. 

"What I saw was a lot of people sleeping on the floor, people working 10, 12 hours a day, six, seven days a week," Carlos Gabriel, a former Tesla employee who worked at the company in 2020, said of his experience at the Fremont factory. Musk has also said he slept on the factory floor from time to time.

Gabriel previously told The Washington Post in 2020 that he had been terminated and alleged he'd lost his job after he spoke up about working conditions at the facility during the COVID-19 pandemic. At the time, Tesla did not comment on Gabriel's claims.

Huibert Mees, chief engineer on the Model S suspension who worked at Tesla from 2009 to 2015 before leaving for Apple, told The Verge the work was "all-consuming."

"You put in the hours and it was weekends and it was 8, 9, 10 at night every night," he said on the podcast.

Denis Duran — a former Tesla employee who started working for the company in 2014 during the Model 3 production ramp-up that Musk has dubbed "production hell" — said on the podcast that he remembers seeing another worker throw up on the factory floor and faint from dehydration. He also said he recalled a raw sewage leak that some Tesla workers were told to continue working through.

"We couldn't believe that it was almost like past our feet, the sewage and we even asked like 'Are we gonna shut it down? This is ridiculous.'" Duran said on the podcast. "They were like: 'No, no we need to keep running. This is not going to stop a line.'"

The ex-Tesla worker said the company made a pathway that the workers could walk on over the raw sewage. Duran and three other Tesla employees originally told Bloomberg about the incident in 2018. At the time, a spokesperson for Tesla told Insider that the company was not aware of any instances in which managers told workers to walk through sewage.

Duran told The Verge he worked for Tesla for five years before he left the company. During that time, he said he worked through a fire and saw a man's leg crushed by a car on the assembly line. Duran has since become vocal about his experience at the factory and called the carmaker a "modern day sweatshop" in a video he filmed with the More Perfect Union in 2021. He told The Verge Tesla HR was called in to address some of his safety concerns, but "everyone there in the meeting was too terrified to say anything."

"Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our employees," A Tesla representative told Insider when Bloomberg first published Duran and other worker's safety complaints in 2018. "This is not to say that there aren't real issues that need to be dealt with at Tesla or that we've made no mistakes with any of the 40,000 people who work at our company. However, there should be absolutely no question that we care deeply about the well-being of our employees and that we try our absolute hardest to do the right thing and to fail less often. With each passing month, we improve safety further and will keep doing so until we have the safest factory in the world by far."

Elon Musk has dubbed the Model 3 production ramp up "production hell."
Elon Musk has dubbed the Model 3 production ramp up "production hell." Mason Trinca for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Another former Tesla employee, Melvin Berry, said Musk was on a short fuse during the early stages of Model 3 production ramp-up which the Tesla CEO dubbed "production hell."

"Let's say you dropped something, let's say you do something wrong, you get fired on the spot because Elon is coming out of a room looking down at you," Berry said of his experience at the company in 2015 and 2016.

Musk has been accused of rage-firing employees in the past, something he has denied. In 2018, Wired reported that Tesla employees were told to avoid passing Musk's desk because he had a habit of going on "rage-firing" sprees. A book about Musk published last year said the entrepreneur had a reputation for exploding at top executives and employees on the assembly line. In the past, Musk has called the allegations of rage-firing  "false" on Twitter and said he gives "clear and frank" feedback to employees.

Berry left the company in 2016. He was awarded $1 million in a racial discrimination lawsuit against Tesla in 2021. In the lawsuit, he alleged that he was called racial slurs by supervisors on the production line at Tesla while the company turned a blind eye.

While some former Tesla employees expressed concern about some of the company's practices, Mees said on the podcast that the EV company never would have succeeded without Musk's determination.

"To do something like this in the time we had with the with the resources that we had the money we had, there's no other way to do," Mees said on "Land of the Giants."

A spokesperson for Tesla did not respond to a request for comment from Insider.

Listen to the full podcast here.

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