Tesla has destroyed the Autopilot data annotation team, cutting off over 200 people and closing the San Mateo, California headquarters where they worked.
Sources who spoke in an interview on the condition of anonymity confirmed the layoffs, which were initially reported in a news magazine.
The layoffs are part of a larger workforce decrease at Tesla. However, these layoffs targeted employees who were previously thought vital to the company’s Autopilot advanced driver assistance system, as well as plans by CEO Elon Musk to further expand automated driving functions via the $12,000 optional FSD system.
Tesla had hundreds of data annotation professionals working on the Autopilot team in San Mateo and Buffalo, New York up until today. The San Mateo office had a staff of 276 people, and after laying off 195 people from all levels — managers, labelers, and data analysts — the team is down to 81 people, who will be reassigned to another location, according to sources.
According to one source, the majority of the workers were in somewhat low-skilled, low-wage tasks such as Autopilot data classification, which entails deciding whether Tesla’s computer classified an object well or poorly.
The insider stated that layoffs of this crew had been known for months, and that the work would be offloaded to Buffalo.
As per Glassdoor data, jobs at Tesla such as data annotation specialists or data analysts pay less in Buffalo than in San Mateo. It’s unclear whether Tesla is relocating employees to New York to save money or to qualify for one of the state’s many job incentives, such as the New York Youth Jobs program tax credit or the credit for hiring people with disabilities.
However, it is unlikely to be a 1:1 replacement in Buffalo, where sources predict Tesla will simply overwhelm the existing personnel, “as is the Tesla way.” Act now and deal with the consequences later.”
What will happen to Autopilot if Tesla does not hire more data labelers and others to work on it, which the firm has said is a critical ingredient for training deep neural networks that can help develop the entire self-driving beta software? Perhaps Tesla will abandon its vision-only approach to autonomous driving and begin incorporating lidar and radar into its vehicles.
Basis for letting the employees go?
While sources corroborate that the 195 Autopilot team employees who were let go on Tuesday were indeed let off, they also claim that the majority of the “layoffs” that occurred at the end of May were, in fact, performance-based terminations.
Employee termination based on performance allows any corporation to evade certain legal requirements, such as the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which helps ensure advance notice in cases of qualified factory closings and large layoffs.
Indeed, two former Tesla employees filed a complaint against the automaker last week, alleging that the firm failed to provide the 60-day prior notice needed by federal law during its recent round of layoffs.
A class action lawsuit is also being pursued against Tesla, which, according to sources, recruits more rejected workers every day.
In after-hours trading on Tuesday, Tesla stock is down 5%.