Questions continue on Tesla's reliability in WNY

Mayor Byron Brown expresses optimism, others question veracity of job quota

Mike Baggerman
February 26, 2020 - 8:46 pm
Tesla site in South Buffalo. (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

Tesla site in South Buffalo. (WBEN Photo/Mike Baggerman)

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (WBEN) – Some public officials remain confident that Tesla will contribute to the community in the long term, despite recent headlines highlighting the continued problems at its South Buffalo facility.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown is among those who remain confident in the long-term outlook after news broke that Tesla claims to have more than 1,500 jobs in Buffalo and 300 others in New York State.

“That’s a good sign,” Brown said. “The plant was bustling when I and members of the state legislature took a tour of the plant. It was very diverse (the employee base). There were a large number of employees from the City of Buffalo.”

Tesla and Panasonic ended their partnership in producing solar cells after years of struggling to ramp up output from Buffalo. Panasonic will end all their solar panel operations in the United States by the end of the year while Tesla will continue operations.

Brown was told that the Panasonic jobs are going overseas.

“We’re very concerned about the employees and what will happen to the employees,” Brown said. “They will be working to assist the employees either with training, new jobs, job fairs, severance pay, and a variety of things they are doing to try and assist all their employees in trying to find re-employment.”

403 people are losing their job at Panasonic.

Brown said the news doesn’t tarnish Tesla’s legacy in Buffalo because of the job numbers touted by the plant. He said he’s hopeful that all of those employees who lost their jobs will be re-hired.

WBEN contacted Assemblyman Sean Ryan, who recently toured the facility, and State Senator Tim Kennedy for comment but did not hear back.

The $750 million facility has been criticized for years for its use of taxpayer dollars to build the plant, including an illegal bid-rigging scheme that resulted in members of the Cuomo administration going to prison. There’s also been a lack of transparency from Tesla about the plant and concerns about the job numbers.

Republican Assemblyman Angelo Morinello said he’s concerned about the hiring numbers and whether or not the company hired people just to fill a quota so as to avoid a $41 million penalty on April 1.

“We have to be more vigilant when we look at funding for these gigantic projects as to what the real potential is,” Morinello said. “At this point, I don’t really know what they’re producing there. There’s lots of hyperbole and discussions and articles, but in actuality, what concerns me is is this a folly? Did we waste the money? If it is, what are we going to do to recoup it?”

Morinello said he was happy with Empire State Development’s statement that said they will vet the job numbers. He said he hopes the ESD will look at the full-scope of employment.

Morinello said lawmakers outside of the region are more focused on other issues like the budget and bail reform instead of Tesla.

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