Tesla publicly raised its cybertruck plant in Austin, Texas, on Tuesday, facing public concerns about the treatment of its workers, the impact of the proposal on the local housing crisis, the need for tax cuts for automakers and, most importantly, CEO Elon Musk, according tomedia The Verge.
About 45 residents of Austin and surrounding areas commented on the plant deal at a virtual public meeting Tuesday in the Travis County Sheriff’s Court, the local government’s decision-making and administration department. Many objected to Musk’s actions during the New Crown pandemic, including how he violated local health orders to reopen Tesla’s car plant in California, sue the county where the plant is located, and spread false information about the virus. According to Gov. Greg Abbott, Texas is currently experiencing a “massive outbreak” of COVID-19 cases.
Rohan Patel, Tesla’s senior director of global public policy, said at Tuesday’s meeting that the company has been soliciting offers for its next U.S. plant for the past few months from “almost all the states and governors east of the Rocky Mountains.” But Tesla’s focus now is on bringing the plant that makes the Cybertruck and Model Y SUVs to two specific locations: either Austin or Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Before community members spoke, Tesla provided the most detailed information yet about what it wanted to do to the plant and what it wanted to get back from Austin and Travis Counties. The company told local officials that if the plant was built in Austin, it would employ about 5,000 people in “middle-skilled” jobs, with an average annual salary of $47,147 and entry-level jobs starting at $35,000. Tesla also said the plant’s presence would create about 4,000 additional jobs in the region.
Tesla is understood to be looking at a property collection known as the Austin Green development. The company has applied to buy the land for $5 million, covering about 2,100 acres. At present, most of the land is unused, but there is still a gravel mining business operating in the heart of the proposed plant. If completed, the Tesla plant will be just a few miles from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport. The site also spans a major highway and is close to farmland, a small park, some residential areas and several new neighborhoods still under construction. The southeast corner of the site is adjacent to the Colorado River, nearly two miles from Texas.
“The potential for entertainment, for aesthetics, is huge, and the vision of transforming an old mine into a sustainable plant with entertainment opportunities – it’s just a vision that fits perfectly with our mission,” Patel said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Tesla is expected to spend about $1 billion on the new plant. But the company said it was seeking a tax break in Texas. Tesla is asking the local government for property tax relief, which could save about $68 million over 10 years, while Travis County will save about $14 million over the same period.
Patel said other state and local governments have offered Tesla more significant tax breaks, including a complete elimination of property taxes and other business taxes for 20 years or more. “We didn’t ask for this in Texas, but I’m asking for an agreement similar to that of other big manufacturers to make the economic stake useful to us, but perhaps more importantly, to provide the county with a victory, a victory for the school district, a victory for the community,” Patel said.
So far, Texas is discussing a tax rebate that is far less than the $1.3 billion tax incentive the company received at Gigafactory in Nevada and hundreds of millions of dollars from SolarCity’s New York plant before it merged with Tesla.
Tesla has agreed to give back at least 10 percent of the county rebates to the local community, and is already discussing possible training programs and affordable housing programs with local schools and organizations. But at Tuesday’s meeting, some Travis County residents still disputed the proposal. “I think our taxes can be better used to improve the problems we haven’t solved since day one: the terrible living conditions, pollution, crime and poverty of east Travis County residents,” said Cecilia Ryan, who lives less than a mile from the site. “5,000 jobs won’t help improve the situation. “
Others are concerned about Tesla’s promised salary. “The proposal starts at $35,000 a year, which might sound good in 1985,” said one resident.
Patel earlier stressed at the meeting that the entry pay cited was a “bottom line” and that “for us, it’s really not hard to cross.” He also noted that Tesla provides company stocks to all employees.
Some residents, including local union leaders, have filed a complaint about Tesla’s poor history of worker safety. They point to the company’s refusal to allow OSHA to inspect Gigafactory, Nevada, in 2018, and the recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board that Tesla’s efforts to undermine the union violate the law. Travis County Commissioner said Tuesday that local UAW and AFL-CIO have raised issues with the court to consider pay and working conditions protection.
“Throughout today’s speech, I heard what a great employer they were. But I’m sure when someone shows you who they are, trust them,” said Colby Duhon, a member of the local AFSCME union for Austin and Travis County employees. “I’m not making this allegation lightly, but today’s Tesla representative on this call is absolutely lying to you on their records, ” he said. “
But the most consistent the meave of residents’ comments was criticism of Musk. Several community members disputed how Tesla’s CEO initially resisted a local California county-level health order in March. Some are disappointed that he decided to let Tesla sue Alameda County when it wants to restart work, and that Musk eventually got the company to restart production in May if it violated the public health order.
“Elon Musk has repeatedly called for the withdrawal of broad measures taken to slow the spread of the virus and to speak out about dangerous, Trump-style talking points, such as the apparently false benefits of chloroquine,” Duhon said. “When they do withdraw from their agreement, as they have shown, they will defend it with better lawyers than we can afford, as they have done with Alameda,” he said. “
“How can we allow this company to enter our community, drag Travis County to federal court, and then here in Austin not to comply with the law-enforced health order?” Austin resident Jordan McRae asked. More than one person called Musk a “billionaire playboy” and said he and Tesla did not need the proposed tax rebate.
“I’m very disappointed that these tax breaks are being considered for a company worth hundreds of billions of dollars, and a billionaire playboy, who will not necessarily honour all the agreements he has with the government of the district where he founded the company,” said Trish Niswander, another AFSCME member. Tesla’s current valuation is even higher than that, with a market capitalisation of about $178 billion.
Despite these criticisms, there is a clear excitement about the factory. Commissioners said they received letters of support for the project from Houston-Tyrosen College (Austin), the University of Texas, Austin Community College, the Austin Regional Manufacturers Association and the Austin Hispanic, Asian, Black and LGBT Chamber of Commerce. The commissioners also said they had received about 190 emails from Travis County residents in support of the proposal, and about 60 against it.
Many of the people who spoke in support of the plant at the meeting were Tesla owners, several even employees. An assistant service manager praised the company’s “excellent affordable medical care” and other benefits. He said the benefits were enjoyed by Tesla employees “even Elon.”
One Austin resident and Tesla owner, Diane Webb, said she had a “strong feeling that if (Tesla) wasn’t a good company, I’d know now.” “For me, Texas has always represented the competition and originality of free enterprise, and our slogan has always been ‘Texas is open to business’. And we really need to be open for this. Even if I don’t own Tesla, I think the plant is a good idea. But it’s not just a good idea. It’s a great idea. Webb said.