Tesla gutted the data annotation team working on Autopilot, laid off nearly 200 employees and closed the San Mateo, California office where they worked. The layoffs, first reported by Bloomberg, were confirmed by sources who spoke to TechCrunch on condition of anonymity.
The cuts come amid broader job cuts at Tesla. However, those layoffs targeted employees once seen as critical to the company’s advanced driver assistance system, Autopilot, and particularly to CEO Elon Musk’s efforts to advance automated driving capabilities through the optional $12,000 FSD system.
To date, Tesla has employed hundreds of data annotation professionals working on the Autopilot team in San Mateo and Buffalo, New York. The San Mateo office had 276 employees, and after laying off 195 employees from all ranks — supervisors, labelers and data analysts — the team is left with 81 employees, which sources say will be transferred to another office.
Most workers worked in moderately low-skilled, low-paying jobs, such as autopilot data labeling, which a source says determines whether Tesla’s algorithm did a good or bad job of identifying an object.
The source noted that layoffs had been on the table for that team for months and that work would be outsourced to Buffalo.
Based on Glassdoor data, jobs like Data Annotation Specialists or Data Analysts at Tesla pay less in Buffalo than in San Mateo. It’s unclear whether Tesla is moving employees to the New York office to cut costs or as a strategy to qualify for New York State’s many employment incentives, such as the New York Youth Jobs Program tax credit or the the employment of people with disabilities.
However, it likely won’t be a 1-for-1 replacement in Buffalo, where sources say Tesla will likely just swamp the existing team “like Tesla has done. Act now, deal with the consequences later.”
If Tesla doesn’t actually hire more data writers and others to work on autopilot – which the company says is an essential part of deep neural network training that can help improve the full self-driving beta software – what will happen then? this technology? Perhaps Tesla will change course on autonomy and start introducing lidar and radar in its vehicles.
Layoffs or Layoffs?
While sources confirm that the 195 Autopilot team members who were laid off Tuesday were actually fired, they also say that most of the “layoffs” that began in late May were actually performance-related terminations.
Leaving employees for performance gives any company the opportunity to avoid certain legal requirements such as the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act, which helps ensure advance notice of qualified plant closures and mass layoffs.
In fact, last week two former Tesla employees filed a lawsuit against the automaker, alleging that the company failed to provide the 60-day notice required by federal law during its latest round of layoffs.
A class-action lawsuit is also being filed against Tesla, which sources say is recruiting more spurned workers every day.
Tesla shares are down 5% in after-hours trading on Tuesday.