Elon Musk reopens California Tesla factory in defiance of lockdown order

CEO announces electric carmaker will begin production on Monday after company sues county over Covid-19 restrictions

Elon Musk announced on Twitter that Tesla would resume production at its northern California factory on Monday afternoon, in defiance of a local public health order designed to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules,” the billionaire CEO tweeted. “I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”

Musk’s announcement followed a weekend of escalating threats by the entrepreneur against the county that is home to Tesla’s only car factory in the US, in the city of Fremont. On Saturday, Tesla sued Alameda county, alleging that the local public health order violated California’s constitution. Musk also threatened to move its headquarters and “future programs” to Texas or Nevada “immediately” and suggested that the company may not continue to “retain Fremont manufacturing at all”.

Musk has for weeks railed against restrictions put in place to mitigate the spread of the virus that has killed nearly 80,000 people in the US and more than 285,000 people worldwide. The billionaire entrepreneur has become one of the most high-profile purveyors of misinformation about the virus, regularly promoting false messaging about the disease to his more than 34 million Twitter followers. Musk has also appeared to lend his voice to the fringe political movement equating public health measures with government oppression, referring to shelter-in-place orders as “fascist” and tweeting messages such as, “FREE AMERICA NOW.”

Musk’s most recent grievance stems from the fact that his factory is located in a part of California that has stricter rules for reopening than the rest of the state. On 7 May, governor Gavin Newsom announced rules to allow some manufacturers to reopen on 8 May. However, the statewide rules do not supersede local restrictions, if they are stricter, and many of the state’s most populous counties, including seven counties in the San Francisco Bay area, have decided to keep in place their more stringent rules through the end of May.

On Monday, Newsom said during his daily press briefing that he was not aware Tesla had reopened but that he had “great expectations that we can work through at the county levels”, adding: “We look forward to many, many decades of that relationship with Tesla.”

State law allows a fine of up to $1,000 a day or up to 90 days in jail for operating in violation of health orders.

Any arrests at the factory are highly unlikely. A spokeswoman for the Fremont police said that the department has not yet issued a single citation for violating the coronavirus public health order in the city of approximately 240,000 people, and that “all matters have been mitigated through compliance”.

The spokeswoman referred questions about Tesla to the county public health department. “We do enforce the order at the health officer’s direction, but we have been told they are in active talks with Tesla surrounding safety protocols,” she said. “We have not received any additional information or direction.”

The county health department said Monday that it was aware that the Tesla factory was operating beyond the “minimum basic operations” that are allowed, and that it had “notified Tesla” that it was not allowed to do so until the company and county agreed on an safety plan for reopening.

“We are addressing this matter using the same phased approach we use for other businesses that have violated the order in the past, and we hope that Tesla will likewise comply without further enforcement measures,” the county said in a statement.

The Tesla plant has been closed since 23 March. The factory employs about 10,000 workers. On Monday, the plant’s parking lot was nearly full, prompting speculation that the company planned to defy the public health order even before Musk’s tweet.

“We’re happy to get back to work and have implemented very detailed plans to help you keep safe as you return,” an email to Tesla employees stated, according to Reuters.

Tesla says it has safety procedures to protect workers including increased cleaning, enforcement of social distancing, providing face coverings and gloves where needed, installing barriers between workers when necessary and worker temperature checks at some locations.

Alameda county had recorded 2,101 cases of Covid-19 and 71 deaths as of Sunday.

Agencies contributed reporting

Contributor

Julia Carrie Wong in Oakland

The GuardianTramp

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