'If Anyone Is Arrested, I Ask That It Only Be Me' Says Elon Musk, Reopens Tesla Plant Despite COVID-19 Lockdown
Elon Musk tweeted to confirm he reopened his Tesla facility in Fremont, California over the weekend despite a continuing legal battle with local officials regarding whether the plant should stay closed amid the COVID-19 outbreak, and asked to take personal responsibility for legal gray areas. The automaker called back a number of workers and has completed roughly 200 Model Y and Model 3 cars, according to two employees who spoke anonymously to The Verge.
This occurred while Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he may move the company's operations out of California, and sued Alameda County regarding its stay-at-home orders.
Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules. I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 11, 2020
'If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me' Says Elon Musk regarding reopening Tesla plant
Elon Musk has since confirmed the reopening in a recent tweet, which said: "Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules. I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me."
Tesla has reportedly called back workers placed on furlough in April, according to an email exchange seen by The Verge. The automaker had only told specific workers to report back to work later this week, as Business Insider reported.
Elon Musk's California Tesla plant resumed car production
Tesla's Fremont factory was closed on March 23, one week following Alameda County's initial stay-at-home order, and a few days after the California Governor declared a statewide version of the order. Since then, the company has worked relentlessly to convince local officials to allow it to continue producing electric cars because of the Department of Homeland Security stipulation that auto manufacturing is "national critical infrastructure."
On Saturday, Alameda County officials said they were "communicating directly and working closely with the Tesla team on the ground in Fremont," and added that the company had so far displayed "a collaborative, good faith effort to develop and implement a safety plan that allows for reopening while protecting the health and well-being of the thousands of employees who travel to and from work at Tesla's factory."
UPDATE May 11, 5:00 PM EDT: Elon Musk warned local officials: 'this is the final straw'
Alameda County officials had said they had yet to reach an agreement with Tesla regarding potential reopening. When officials released their statement, Tesla sued the county regarding the stay-at-home order. Musk then threatened to move the automaker out of California, urging Tesla supporters via Twitter to "please voice your disagreement as strongly as possible with Alameda County."
Frankly, this is the final straw. Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately. If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will be dependen on how Tesla is treated in the future. Tesla is the last carmaker left in CA.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 9, 2020
Supervisor of Alameda County Scott Haggerty told The New York Times through the weekend that Tesla and health officials were nearing an agreement to reopen the facility on May 18 before Musk tweeted on Saturday:
"Frankly, this is the final straw. Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately. If we even retain Fremont manufacturing activity at all, it will be dependen[t] on how Tesla is treated in the future. Tesla is the last carmaker left in CA," said Musk.
"We were working on a lot of policies and procedures to help operate that plant and quite frankly, I think Tesla did a pretty good job, and that's why I had it to the point where May 18, Tesla would have reopened," said Haggerty. "I know Elon knew that. But he wanted it this week."
It's important to note that Elon Musk has underplayed the COVID-19 crisis repeatedly. In March, he told Spacex workers they were more likely to die from a car collision, and later took to Twitter to say he believed there would be "close to zero" new cases in the country by the end of April. Car crashes don't spread like a virus, and more than 20,000 new coronavirus cases were confirmed every day in recent weeks. Musk has also said that the nationwide stay-at-home orders violate people's constitutional rights.
UPDATE May 11, 5:20 PM EDT: Anonymous Tesla workers describe their difficult decision to work amid COVID-19
The two workers who spoke with The Verge said they faced difficult decisions on whether or not to work this week as their employers and CEO waged a public battle with California officials, reports The Verge. Since both sources are paid by the hour, they won't be paid unless they go into work. If they do, they'll make less than they once did following company-wide pay cuts.
Tesla previously instructed its employees to use paid time off (PTO) days if they feel uncomfortable coming in, but the company later cashed out many of its employees' remaining PTO days, citing the extended furlough.
"It's either we feed our families or go hungry at this point," said one of The Verge's sources who decided to return to work in the Tesla factory.
The other source is remaining home. "I love my job personally, just tired of feeling like a chess piece," said this person, to The Verge. They added that they wouldn't feel okay about producing cars at the moment because it requires close-quarters work. "We get lured in by the 'Tesla Dream' of saving the planet only to get treated so poorly that even though I love my job, I'm not willing to risk my health for him," said the source, presumably referring to Musk.
UPDATE May 12, 2:50 PM EDT: US President Trump tells California to let Tesla reopen despite COVID-19 lockdown
President of the U.S. Donald Trump argued for local authorities in Alameda County, California to allow Tesla to reopen its all-electric vehicle assembly plant — in agreement with CEO Elon Musk's defiance of local officials who previously ordered the plant to stay closed, according to a tweet from the President.
California should let Tesla & @elonmusk open the plant, NOW. It can be done Fast & Safely!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 12, 2020
In his tweet, the President said: "California should let Tesla & @elonmusk open the plant, NOW. It can be done Fast & Safely!"
Musk expressed gratitude to the President hours later in a reply-tweet:
Thank you!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 12, 2020
UPDATE May 13, 6:59 AM EDT: Dispute on Tesla factory reopening may have come to a close
Since then, it's grown more likely that the dispute between Tesla and the San Francisco Bay Area authorities on the reopening of the Fremont factory shutdown may be coming to a close, reports AP News.
On Wednesday, the Alameda County Public Health Department declared that the Tesla factory may go beyond basic operations this week and fully-resume car production on this coming Monday — as long as full safety measures are administered, AP News reports.