Mercedes plant manager joins competitor Tesla as factory′s future uncertain | News | DW | 11.11.2020

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Mercedes plant manager joins competitor Tesla as factory's future uncertain

The move comes as Mercedes slashes jobs in its transition to electromobility and the US automaker sets up production in Germany. Union workers see the Berlin engine plant in peril and will protest the cuts on Thursday.

IG Metall took the unusual step of announcing that the outgoing top manager at Daimler AG's Mercedes-Benz engine factory in Berlin, Rene Reif, was in fact moving to Tesla. Reif, Mercedes and Tesla had not commented at the time.

IG Metall, Germany's largest union, called for protests at the plant on Thursday, November 12.

"We will make clear that we see the switch of the factory manager as a betrayal. You can't build a future working with such soulless managers," said Jan Otto, head of IG Metall Berlin.

Tesla is building a massive new plant just outside Berlin. Daimler confirmed that Reif had requested an early retirement but said it would not comment on employees at other companies. Tesla did not comment on the situation.

Read more:  Will critics of German Gigafactory slow down Elon Musk?

The costruction site for Tesla's new Gigafactory in Grünheide, near Berlin. Pictured in September 2020.

Tesla is building a new facility in Germany, and is seemingly hoping to hunt some experienced heads in its new base of operation

'Devastating' capitualtion

Daimler, Mercedes-Benz's parent company, has been facing difficulty as it — like other German automakers — was late to begin the transition to electromobility. Now, IG Metall says the Stuttgart-based company will likely be laying off roughly half of the 2,500 workers employed at the Berlin plant, which focuses on internal combustion engines.

Union leader Jan Otto says Mercedes has refused to discuss the issue of lay-offs, but vowed the union would fight to keep the factory going, saying: "We are on the cusp of a key conflict in the German car industry." Otto called the possible closing of the Berlin factory in the face of competition from Tesla "devastating."      

An employee at the Mercedes factory in Berlin-Marienfelde works on an engine. Archive image from 2009.

Reif was in charge of the engine facility in Berlin that is expecting to face downsizing

Other union representatives, such as regional boss Birgit Dietze, pointed out that although advertised starting monthly wages at Tesla —expected to be around €2,700 ($3,200) —may sound promising in a region where 40% of employees earn minimum wage, she says "Entry level salaries in the automobile industry are significantly higher."

Tesla has said it will be hiring some 12,000 workers in the region to staff its new Berlin Gigafactory.

Jump-starting an 'Electric First' strategy

Clemens Dobrawa, who previously headed Mercedes' Accumotive battery factory in Kamenz, in the eastern state of Saxony, will now run the Berlin engine plant as well as another plant in Hamburg. "Thanks to his activity as representative in Kamenz, he brings important know-how for the transformation toward electromobility," said Daimler, adding the Berlin plant would be restructured to serve an "Electric First" strategy.

IG Metall has demanded Daimler present proposals for maintaining jobs at the Berlin plant and has called on workers to gather for a protest at the factory gate in Berlin-Marienfelde on Thursday.

Editor's note (12.11.2020): The original version of this article incorrectly stated that IG Metall had themselves used the word "defection" to describe Reif's move to Tesla. The German word used by Jan Otto, Wechsel, is better translated by more neutral terms like change, switch or move. We apologize for the error and have altered the article accordingly.

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js/msh (dpa, Reuters)