Reports from German media have noted that one of Mercedes-Benz’s key manufacturing executives, Rene Reif, has defected to American electric car maker Tesla, which is currently in the process of building its first domestic factory in Germany. Needless to say, workers’ union IG Metall was not happy about the executive’s alleged “betrayal.”
While neither Reif nor Tesla has confirmed the news, IG Metall took the unusual step of announcing the executive’s departure from Mercedes-Benz’s engine factory at Berlin. As noted in a report from Deutsche Welle, the union announced the “defection” in a press release calling for protests at the engine factory on Thursday, November 12. Jan Otto, head of IG Metall Berlin, shared the union’s sentiments about Reif’s departure.
“We cannot build the future with soulless managers like this. We don’t understand why such a traditional and innovative car manufacturer like the Daimler Group wants to capitulate to its American competitor. We want to shape the future in the factory. We are talking to the state politicians about this. On Thursday afternoon we will set the first sign in Berlin. We will make it clear that we see the change in the plant manager as treason, it is questionable whether we have not been lied to the whole time,” Otto said in IG Metall Berlin’s press release.
Prior to his departure, Reif had served as the top manager at Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz Berlin engine factory. He also has extensive experience in manufacturing, serving as the head of engineering and production at Daimler’s joint venture in China, which started building the EQC all-electric SUV last year. Daimler, for its part, has confirmed that Reif had requested an early retirement, though it did not state if the executive is indeed moving to Tesla.
Reif’s departure comes at a rather inopportune time for Mercedes-Benz as its parent company, Daimler, has been facing difficulties. This is partly due to the company’s late shift in its electromobility initiatives. Even beyond competition from Tesla, Daimler’s EV efforts have not borne as much fruit, with rival carmakers like Volkswagen making more headway with vehicles like the ID.3.
Amidst these challenges, IG Metall noted that the company will likely be laying off 2,5000 workers at the Berlin plant. Otto noted that while Mercedes-Benz has so far refused to discuss the issue of layoffs at the Berlin engine facility, IG Metall would fight to keep the factory going. “We are on the cusp of a key conflict in the German car industry,” Otto stated while adding the potential closing of the factory in the face of Tesla’s emerging presence in Germany is “devastating.”
IG Metall regional boss Birgit Dietze also spoke about Tesla’s recently-revealed starting wage, which gained praise from Jochem Freyer, the Head of Worker Agency at Frankfurt. According to Freyer, Tesla has agreed to pay workers without education and who were unemployed at the time of their application at the company a salary of €2,700 per month, which is higher than what is expected. Freyer was optimistic about the amount, stating that the wage is a “blast for this level.” Dietze, however, disagrees. “Entry-level salaries in the automobile industry are significantly higher,” she said.