POLITICS

Tesla Reopens California Car Factory, Defying County Coronavirus Orders

Founder Elon Musk has been railing against COVID-19 shutdown orders, tweeting Monday of his company reopening: “If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”

Car company Tesla restarted production at its factory in Fremont, California, on Monday, going against Alameda County’s restrictions for businesses during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Tesla founder Elon Musk, who railed against “fascist” COVID-19 shutdown orders in an earnings call last month, tweeted Monday that his company was reopening “against Alameda County rules.”

“I will be on the line with everyone else,” the billionaire businessman posted. “If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.” 

The company’s parking lot was filled with employees’ cars on Monday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, and unnamed workers told the outlet that production had begun over the weekend. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said in a press conference Monday that while the state has lifted restrictions on manufacturers, it “respects the right” of counties to put stricter orders in place. On Tesla defying county orders, Newsom said he was “not aware of the details” of the company’s reopening. The governor’s office did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for further comment.

Alameda County spokesperson Neetu Balram, who told reporters Friday that Tesla “must not reopen” under the current orders, said in a statement Monday that the county had “notified” the company that it could still only maintain “minimum basic operations” — which include things like building security, inventory delivery and remote work, but not a return to production. 

“We hope that Tesla will ... comply without further enforcement measures,” Balram wrote, saying the county has been in conversation with Tesla since April 30 on a safety plan for reopening, and it was still “working through steps,” including improving health screening for employees. 

Across the country, workplace factory settings, like Amazon’s warehouses and meatpacking processing plants, have become sites of COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Several unnamed Tesla workers from the Fremont factory told Business Insider that they were afraid of losing their jobs at Tesla if they didn’t return to work, with one saying the company told them they’d lose benefits and the ability to apply for unemployment if they didn’t come in.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.   

California had more than 67,500 confirmed coronavirus cases as of Monday and over 2,700 deaths. 

Tesla's Fremont plant in California, with a parking lot full of cars, on May 11, 2020.
Tesla's Fremont plant in California, with a parking lot full of cars, on May 11, 2020.

Over the weekend, Musk threatened to move the company’s California factory to another state and filed a lawsuit against the Alameda County over its restrictions preventing his factory from reopening.

In a “return to work” plan posted on Tesla’s website on Saturday, the company said it was “resuming operations” with workers’ “health and safety in mind.” Its safety guidelines include temperature checks for some employees and providing gloves and masks to some.  

In the California governor’s press conference Monday, Newsom said he had “long been a strong advocate and supporter” of the tech company.

“I have great reverence for their technology,” Newsom said, noting that he’s known founder Musk for “many years.” “I have great expectations that we can work through at the county level the issue with this particular county and this company in the next couple of days.”