"Tesla relies a lot on perception," he said. "They want to keep the positive perception."
Scores of workers and supporters have protested at the Fremont factory since the terminations. Some former employees have joined a class action suit, saying the dismissals were actually layoffs -- a distinction that could bring the former employees up to 60 days of back pay.
Employment lawyers say it's unusual to fire hundreds of employees within weeks for performance issues.
"If an employee is doing poorly, you would just fire him," said Nick Rosenthal, a Los Angeles attorney for several former Tesla employees. "You wouldn't fire hundreds at the same time."
Randy Strauss, an employment attorney based in Oakland, questioned Tesla's explanation for the dismissal.
"On its face, it seems highly unlikely," Strauss said. "Have you ever heard of a company that fires up to 1,000 people at one time, for cause?"
Josie Camacho, an executive at the Alameda Labor Council, said the terminations shocked many in the community. Labor organizers had high hopes for Musk leading a new era of auto manufacturing in the Bay Area and restoring the former Toyota plant to regional, economic powerhouse.
Camacho said remaining factory workers she's spoken with are upset. "As far as I'm concerned," she said, "this employer needs to be held accountable."
Morales insists he's not bitter about his time at Tesla. He's found a new, better-paying job closer to his home in San Jose. "Things happen for a reason."
But still, he said, "I don't think it was right."
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