Elon Musk: Praise the vision, not the man



On social media, he is perceived by his cult-like following as an icon and role model; a self-made man who paved the way for privatized space travel. 

The abridged version of this article appeared in the Feb. 2023 print edition of The Mirror. This is an uncut version.
Everyone knows Elon Musk; multi-billionaire, owner of Tesla and SpaceX and owner of Twitter. 

Despite his success, he is not deserving of praise for his alleged mistreatment of employees and tolerance of harassment and racism at his companies.

Musk’s demanding and ruthless leadership style, which some might argue is needed to run large companies like Tesla and SpaceX, is no secret. Neither is his disregard for the well-being of his employees, which has been well-documented.

In 2017, former and current Tesla employees came forward about the mistreatment they faced at Tesla Fremont factory, reporting that workers experienced chest pains, dizziness and fainting due to the physically demanding nature of their positions. In 2021, another former employee referred to these conditions as a modern-day industrial sweatshop.

When the Total Recordable Incident Rate, a measure of employee safety, showed excessively high accident rates at the Fremont factory, Musk jumped to Tesla’s defense by claiming improvements in working conditions. In 2018, an investigation conducted by the Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal contradicted this, finding a range of safety violations such as the lack of visible pedestrian lanes on the factory floor and the lowering of safety signals, both of which were ordered by Musk with complete disregard of safety implications. 

Musk’s irresponsibility and recklessness didn’t stop there. 

At the height of the pandemic in 2020, after public health orders in Alameda County required non-essential businesses to close down, Musk openly defied these orders and re-opened Tesla’s Fremont factory, leading to 450 workers out of 10,000 testing positive for covid-19. 

It’s clear that Musk treats the employees of his companies as mere commodities, disregarding their status as living, breathing human beings. He demands their complete devotion and effort, without any regard for their health or well-being, as if their lives hold no significance to him. 

Unfortunately, Musk’s mistreatment of employees goes beyond overworking them. He also allows and tolerates racism and harassment in the workplace, failing to address these serious issues.

Black employees at Tesla have reported regular racist comments from colleagues, managers, and HR staff, according to a lawsuit filed in a California state court. The allegations range from being subjected to the N-word to racial slurs written on factory walls.

Musk’s response? An email saying that affected employees should learn to be thick-skinned and forgive those who have wronged them — even if those wrongs include racism. Instead of addressing the issue in a meaningful way, he was insensitive and dismissive.

Multiple female employees, like Jessica Barraza and Erica Cloud, have filed lawsuits against Tesla, recounting experiences of sexual harassment from managers and co-workers. When they reported these incidents to HR, which ranged from being stalked to being asked for sexual favors, they faced either hostility from their managers or received no response at all.

Tesla denied the women’s allegations, claiming that the company has always taken steps to prevent any form of sexual harassment.

The response to these reports, whether from the company or Musk himself, remained the same: apathetic with no concern for the individuals affected.

It’s not just about one or two incidents. The pattern is clear – a CEO who treats his employees as disposable and a company that turns a blind eye to racism, sexual harassment, and worker safety. When leadership sets such a tone, it filters down throughout the entire organization. So, what is the conclusion to draw about Elon Musk and the companies he runs? A man who prioritizes his own interests above the well-being of those who make his success possible is not a hero or role model – he’s a self-serving, dangerous boss who deserves no admiration.