Tesla sales employees petition for higher base pay after commission cuts in 2019

Key Points
  • A Tesla sales employee emailed other staffers asking for support in seeking higher base pay after commissions were cut and responsibilities increased in the second half of 2019.
  • Several current and former sales employees explained that bonuses and commissions were cut, and roles combined.
  • The petition shows how Tesla has pushed some employees to do more with less as the company drives hard to improve margins and reach sustained profitability.
Tesla's new Model 3 car on display is seen on Friday, January 26, 2018, at the Tesla store in Washington, D.C.
Salwan Georges | The Washington Post | Getty Images

A Tesla sales employee sent a mass e-mail asking North American colleagues to support her in seeking higher base pay after commissions were cut but responsibilities increased in the second half of 2019.

Dare Brewer, a Tesla advisor based in Richmond, Virginia, sent an email on Jan. 9 saying that a recent consolidation of multiple sales roles involved "a very slight increase in base pay and a devastating decrease in commission." She continued, "Therefore, we are requesting a 15% increase in base pay to bring us closer to a living wage," and asked colleagues to look out for a follow-up email with a link to the petition.

The sales employees' e-mail illustrates how Tesla has pushed its teams to do more with less as the company drives to improve margins and reach sustained profitability.

Over the past year, Tesla expanded its operations internationally, securing billions to build and open its own car plant in Shanghai. Shares in Tesla have skyrocketed over the past three months in response to the electric car maker's potential for sales growth in China and Europe, a lack of direct competition from other automakers and a stream of promises from CEO Elon Musk to make science fiction manifest with products like a bulletproof Cybertruck pickup, or cars that can operate as driverless robo-taxis.

Brewer said she never sent the follow-up email to her colleagues because a senior human resources manager told her that would violate a Tesla policy which bars "improper solicitations or distributions" through work devices and communication systems.

In the petition, which is now publicly accessible on a site called, Brewer and other un-named Tesla employees wrote: "So far the response from our local managers has been to divide and intimidate us in our efforts."

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment. The petition had garnered 187 signatures by Wednesday morning.

Tesla's high-traffic stores will remain open, says Elon Musk
Tesla's high-traffic stores will remain open, says Elon Musk

Squeezing salespeople

Tesla restructured how it pays salespeople in the second half of 2019, according to Brewer's e-mail and four other current and former sales employees from three different states. Base pay levels vary from $17 to $33 an hour for Tesla sales employees in major U.S. markets, depending on seniority. In the second half of 2019, bonuses were restructured or removed, and commissions were cut. The most senior and highest-performing sales employees saw a slight increase to their base pay. Some asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to talk to press about internal affairs.

The current and former sales employees said managers now urge Tesla sales advisors to complete each vehicle delivery within 15 minutes, which entails completing customer paperwork, making sure the customers are happy with the quality of their car and educating them on how to use unique features such as Tesla's touch-screen dashboard controls and Autopilot, their advanced driver assistance systems.

Current and recent Tesla employees also said that 2019 end-of-year performance reviews were delayed until early 2020, which means that employees waiting on performance-related awards, like stock options, missed out as shares in Tesla climbed 100% in the past three months.

Along with the cut to their commissions in the second half of 2019, responsibilities increased for all sales employees as Tesla combined the roles of Owner Advisors, Customer Experience Specialist and Delivery Experience Specialists.

Elon Musk, chief executive officer of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) and Tesla Inc., speaks during an event at the SpaceX launch facility in Cameron County, Texas, U.S., on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2019. Musk gave space fans an update Saturday evening on the status of "Starship," the next-generation vehicle his SpaceX plans to use to eventually take humans to Mars. Photographer: Bronte Wittpenn/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bronte Wittpenn | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Many Tesla sales jobs now include selling or leasing new and used cars, selling solar and energy storage products, and pre-delivery vehicle preparation tasks that used to be managed by dedicated teams, including skilled vehicle technicians.

For instance, one specialist who previously sold Tesla solar and energy storage systems said that by fall 2019 she was responsible not only for sales of cars and energy products, but also for preparing cars for pick-up and delivery, including cleaning, physical inspections and ordering any missing parts.

Additionally, sales advisors now have to accept and process trade-ins and returned vehicles while helping customers with a range of other problems.

There are still vehicle preparation specialists who detail the cars. But some service centers are down to just a couple of these on staff, which leaves sales advisors to do the rest.

Some Tesla sales advisors said they took on second jobs to make up for lost income, or resorted to using food pantries and other public or welfare benefits. The pay cuts have also driven some long-time employees away.

Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Motors Inc., speaks during an interview at the company's assembly plant in Fremont, California, U.S., on Wednesday, July 10, 2013.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Here is what Brewer's e-mail said:

Hi Tesla Fam!

Happy new year to you all! I hope we can work together to make this decade a more memorable one in the best ways possible. The reason I am reaching out today is to let you know that I will be sending out a petition tomorrow requesting a base pay increase for the Sales and VPS teams. I hope you will consider supporting this endeavor. I have a few quick, important facts listed below about why this is important and how it will affect you if you decide to support us. If you have any questions or concerns please reach out to me. I have also listed the platform's FAQ page if you would like to learn more.


We believe in Tesla's ultimate mission and want to see the company succeed with us as an integral part of that mission. But in order to do so, a real culture of sustainability needs to be established. That not only includes transitioning the world to sustainable energy and transportation but sustainable human rights practices such as being able to work together as a team to negotiate fair wages and treatment.

I love the idea of working together in a more group oriented practice but with this change came a very slight increase in base pay and a devastating decrease in commission. We rely heavily on this to make ends meet. Therefore, we are requesting a 15% increase in base pay to bring us closer to a living wage. We look forward to working together to make a sustainable change in Tesla's internal culture as well as a change in the world as a whole.

Why is this important:

We all love Tesla and want to see the company do well but we need to be able to take care of ourselves as well. We have been told to be scrappy while watching our wages diminish, our work load increase and continuous promises of a better future if we push through now. This future will not come at Tesla if we do not fight for it. The company is doing exceedingly well with stocks and sales but the amount we make has decreased. Our VPS' [Vechicle prep specialists] and TA's [Tesla advisors] do not make a living wage and we are fighting to breathe life into a company that is not doing the same for us.

We love Tesla and our teammates. Even though it is hard to fight for ourselves let's do our best to fight for each other. Tesla will be great and make a real change in this world but only if we hold the company to what is right. Please join me in signing this petition and helping Tesla become sustainable not only in our products but how we treat our people. Let's dare to do more and be more.

How could this effect you:

- The names listed on this petition will only include your first name and last initial. If this concerns you, let me know and I will have the names listed hidden from public view.

- Positive conflict like this can only bring out the best in the place we work. When we work together to bring forward concerns and make positive change in company practices we create a better future not only for ourselves but our future coworkers. Our coworkers are our family and we always want to support each other as well as be the best we can.

Jess Kutch: what productive conflict can offer a workplace

- It's against the law in the United States to fire or retaliate against an employee who joined with their coworkers to improve their working conditions.

- When you ask for help know that your coworkers will rise to the challenge for you and we hope that you will rise to the challenge to support us.

More info on the platform we are using:

Please keep an eye out for this petition tomorrow and take the time to give it careful consideration. No question is too small. Please reach out if you have questions. We can make a difference if we work together.

All the best,

Dare Brewer, Tesla Adviser

Follow @CNBCtech on Twitter for the latest tech industry news.

Celebrity CEOs don't guarantee profits
Celebrity CEOs don't guarantee profits