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0000017c-5ad9-ded9-afff-7bdfe2e40000Each year, KUNR works with the NPR Next Generation Radio program and the Reynolds School of Journalism to train some of the brightest college reporters on multimedia storytelling. This year’s theme for the program is “Overnight Stories from Reno.”

Entering Tesla's Gigafactory

A side shot of a half-smiling young girl wearing a black hat and looking into the distance.
Christian Romero
Liz Jane, 20, moved to Reno from Las Vegas several months ago in hopes of a fresh start at life. She immediately got a job to work at Tesla’s battery factory preparing cooling tubes. Here she is getting in her car to pick up friends for work. ";

20-year-old Liz Jane moved to Reno from Las Vegas several months ago. She immediately got a job to work at Tesla’s battery factory, preparing cooling tubes. Students at the Reynolds School of Journalism talked to Jane about her job to get a behind-the-scenes view of what it’s like to work at Tesla’s massive gigafactory. Here’s her story.

Carpooling Before Her Shift

It’s about 5:30 p.m. and Liz Jane, dressed in plaid and steel toe boots, is going into her car to pick up some of her friends, all of them recent hires at one of the biggest and most secretive buildings in the world. Even though the bumper to her car is broken and falling off, her friends still asked her to drive since her car gets the best gas mileage. The only downside for them is that Jane loves to play country music and they hate it. But since she drives, she gets to pick the music.

After Jane strategically picks up three of her friends, depending on who is closest to her or the factory, she and her friends head off to work. The drive is about 35 minutes east from Reno, which gives the friends enough time to pump each other up and prepare for the long 12-hour shift.

A photo of someone's legs from the shins down, wearing jeans and a pair of black shoes.
Credit Christian Romero
The steel toe boots that Liz Jane has to wear to the Gigafactory to meet the safety requirements that Tesla has in place.

A 12-Hour Night Shift at the Gigafactory

While working at Tesla, Jane does not have to wear a specific uniform, but she does have to follow a dress code that is set in place.

“What I'm wearing right now is steel toe shoes. That's for safety because we are working around big machines and things fall,” she said. She also has to wear jeans and likes to wear an overshirt, such as a flannel, to have some extra protection.

“I bruise really easily so like when I'm lifting heavy totes, because you are lifting a lot of weight all the time carrying these parts from different machines.”

During the night, Jane works on two separate machines. One of the machines that she works on will cut out the parts that go into the cooling unit of Tesla cars. The other machine that Jane works on paints flux onto those parts so they can be easily melted together.

Her overnight shift starts at seven at night and ends at seven in the morning. She gets her first 15-minute break at 9 p.m. and her lunch at midnight, which is 30 minutes long. Her final break is at 4 a.m. and is also a 15-minute break.

During the lunch break, Tesla workers are able to go to the cafeteria and get food, where there is a buffet bar, a snack bar, as well as some soda fountains and, “really bad chopsticks,” according to Jane. But, to make up for the bad chopsticks, she says everything that Tesla workers use inside of the factory is decomposable, including the forks, plates, and cups.

“They make sure everything about the factory is as green as possible,” she said.

A stop sign next to a road lined with electrical poles in front of a brown and tan colored building with hills and blue sky in the background.
Credit Christian Romero
On the corner of USA Parkway and Electric Avenue, the closest that we could get to the Gigafactory before having to turn around at the entrance.

At the end of the shift Jane and her friends drive home either in dead silence, defeated by the numbing night, or in loud banter, letting their frustrations out from the shift. Even though they are exhausted from working for so long, they always follow through on their tradition to go to breakfast together at least once a week.

Not a Dream Job Yet

While working at Tesla may not be the dream job that Jane envisioned, she still really enjoys working there. A lot of people, after they work at a job for a while, start to hate the company that they work for, for various reasons. But to Jane, “it's nice to like feel like you're helping because their end goal is to, you know, have renewable energy and be better for the environment.”

Jane makes $18 an hour, which isn’t enough yet to afford the electric cars she is working on. She still hopes that she can afford and drive a Tesla someday.

Of course, working at the hi-tech company isn’t the end goal for Jane, but she says it is a step in the right direction. Jane is doing what she can to save up money so that she can go to the University of Nevada, Reno, to become a physician's assistant. “It's not the most orthodox way. Most people who live in Vegas, you know, go to UNR and live in the dorms and everything, but I think I've done it the best way I can,” Jane says.

An illustration of mountain with a gap filled by the Tesla logo and a blonde girl wearing navy blue walking over the logo towards a graduation cap.
Credit Illustration by Sylvia Li
Liz walking up a mountain, making progress to reach her goal of going back to school through working at the Tesla Gigafactory.

That story was produced by Christian Romero, a student at the Reynolds School of Journalism, during the NPR Next Generation Radio program. He says this story attracted him for reasons that go beyond shedding light on what it’s like to work at the Tesla gigafactory.

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