Tesla CEO Elon Musk says production will resume at the company's California factory in Fremont, despite Alameda County rules that require it remains closed.
California lifted restrictions on certain manufacturing businesses last week but Governor Gavin Newsom made it clear that county-level policies supersede state directives. Alameda County, where Tesla's factory is located, told the company that its business cannot re-open until officials approve new safety measures. CEO Elon Musk craftily responded by suing the county in order to buy himself time and re-open until a judge hears the case. T
Tesla reportedly produced at least 200 of its Model Y and Model 3 vehicles at its Fremont, California plant over the weekend, defying orders from local officials to remain closed. CEO Elon Musk last Thursday issued a memo directing employees to return to work despite the risks to their health due to the highly infectious coronavirus outbreak. An elected representative for California literally responded to the move by saying, "fuck Elon Musk." Tesla has received more than $4.9 billion in U.S. government subsidies for its business.
Social distancing in a factory — Recent cases of coronavirus outbreaks in other manufacturing plants highlight the dangers of re-opening too soon. In Iowa, officials asked a Tyson meat plant to temporarily close after more than 1,000 workers tested positive for the coronavirus and three died. Critics say that, much like that facility, workers in Tesla's factories work incredibly close to one another so avoiding contact is difficult.
Rewriting the playbook — Tesla released a long "Return to Work Playbook" with new guidelines for safety, but it's unclear how much safety experts were involved in its creation. Musk said in his memo to employees that they can remain home if they don't yet feel safe returning to work, but Business Insider is reporting that some employees have been told they might lose access to benefits if they don't return, meaning they must now make the tough choice between their livelihoods and their health. Workers on the factory line were furloughed during the shutdown and Tesla has reportedly told some their status might change if they don't return, suggesting they could be fired and lose out on access to unemployment benefits.
Moving to Texas... maybe — Musk has been incredibly vocal about California's orders, calling them "fascist" on an earnings call and saying they go against American values in an interview with podcaster Joe Rogan. He has threatened to move Tesla's operations out of California over the whole fiasco, though that seems unlikely considering the huge logistical and financial hurdles doing so entails.
This all comes after Tesla reported an impressive first quarter for 2020 during which it produced over 100,000 cars and turned a profit of $16 million. The Fremont factory didn't close until the latter half of the quarter, and Musk is clearly anxious that the stoppages will kill his winning streak. Its factory in Shanghai, China was also temporarily closed due to a parts shortage, meaning for a brief time the company wasn't producing any cars at all.
Everything is fine — Early in the pandemic, Musk dismissed the seriousness of the virus, eventually conceding and offering to donate ventilators to hospitals. He came under fire even then after it was discovered that he was actually donating CPAP and BiPAP machines that are useful but cannot replace ventilators for the most serious cases of infection. Following Musk's complaints about re-opening, the donations appear less altruistic and more like a ploy to gain some positive press coverage to buoy Tesla through this pandemic and demonstrate he's being responsible.
His legions of fans online certainly praised him despite the issues with the machines. But the donation of insufficient machines doesn't inspire confidence that Tesla's safety measures will be sufficient. If Musk really cared about doing the right thing, he would follow guidance from health officials and remain closed.