Tesla’s dispute with California health authorities over the reopening of its main car plant in defiance of coronavirus shutdown orders appears to be coming to an end – as the automaker shifts its focus to resuming operations at a battery-making Gigafactory in Nevada.
The Alameda County Public Health Department announced on Twitter Wednesday that the Fremont, California, plant will be able to increase ‘minimum business operations’ this week and start making vehicles next Monday, so long as it delivers on the worker safety precautions that it agreed to.
It comes after Tesla CEO Elon Musk defied the county’s order to keep the plant closed through the end of the month and dared authorities to arrest him.
The health department has not said whether Musk will face any punishment for the stunt. 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.
Meanwhile, Tesla announced its intention to fully reopen its Gigafactory in Reno, Nevada, in the coming days in an email to employees obtained by The Verge.
Nevada Gov Steve Sisolak amended the state’s stay-at-home order last week to allow some businesses to reopen with strict protective measures, but it was unclear if the Tesla factory was given the green light under the amendment.
Tesla’s own employees have accused the company of using ‘intimidation and threatening tactics’ to get them back to work by warning that they could be ineligible for unemployment benefits if they refuse to do so.
In the email to Reno staff, Tesla’s North American HR boss Valerie Workman wrote: ‘If you do not feel comfortable coming into work, you can stay home and will be on unpaid leave.
‘Choosing not to report to work may eliminate or reduce your eligibility for unemployment depending on your state’s unemployment agency.’
A similar warning was sent to workers at the Fremont plant, where sources said they feared they would lose their jobs if they chose to remain at home for fear of contracting the virus.
An aerial photograph of the car park outside of the Tesla factory in Fremont, California on Tuesday was full as the factory opened for a second day in defiance of lockdown orders from Alameda County. The county has now said that the plant can resume production as early as next week so long as its safety plans are approved
Tesla factory workers in protective face masks queue for a shuttle bus at Tesla’s plant in Fremont, California on Tuesday
Workers could be seen arriving for work in face masks, walking through the huge employee car park outside the factory that was almost full on Tuesday
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been in an on-going battle to get the factory reopened, threatening to move Tesla to a different state if the factory was not reopened
Meanwhile, Tesla announced its intention to fully reopen its battery-making Gigafactory in Reno, Nevada, (pictured) in the coming days
Tesla stopped production at all of its US factories in mid-March as counties and states around the country implemented stay-at-home orders to stem the spread of coronavirus.
The Bay Area-based company resumed operations at its main plant in Fremont on Monday after filing a lawsuit against Alameda County officials, who deemed it a nonessential business under their order extending local restrictions until June.
Musk, who has repeatedly railed against ‘facist’ lockdowns, confirmed on Twitter that the reopening went ‘against Alameda County rules’ and said that he would be ‘on the line’ at the factory.
The parking lot outside the plant – which employs 10,000 workers – was nearly full on Monday and Tuesday as newly-unfurloughed employees reported for their shifts.
A number of semi-trucks were seen leaving the facility carrying new Model Y and Model 3 vehicles in a sign that production was well underway.
Musk sent an email to all Tesla employees congratulating them on the reopening on Tuesday morning.
‘An honest day’s work spent building products or providing services of use to others is extremely honorable,’ Musk wrote in the email obtained by The San Francisco Chronicle.
‘I have vastly more respect for someone who takes pride in doing a good job, whatever the profession, than some rich or famous person who does nothing useful.’
The Chronicle reported that some production lines had been operating over the weekend, with some employees even returning as early as last week.
Musk’s email came as Alameda County ordered Tesla to cease production until they could review and approve a site-specific safety plan submitted by the company the day before.
Elon Musk said on Monday that he was restarting production, and dared county officials to arrest him. He claimed Tesla has been singled out in not being allowed to reopen
The Tesla factory employs 10,000 people in Fremont county, and has been told that it must adhere to coronavirus safety guidelines if it is to be allowed to reopen
Tesla said it implemented strict safety measures prior to reopening the plant
President Donald Trump entered the fray with a tweet Tuesday morning, writing: ‘California should let Tesla and @elonmusk open the plant, NOW. It can be done Fast & Safely.’
Musk thanked the president for his support, which drew the ire of Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty.
‘I guess if it was from Dr. [Anthony] Fauci’ – a leading member of Trump’s coronavirus task force – ‘I would probably pay attention a little bit more than somebody who told us to drink disinfectant,’ Scott Haggerty said.
Haggerty’s criticism was referencing Trump’s suggestion in April that injecting people with disinfectant and using UV light could be a treatment for the coronavirus.
The president was heavily criticized for the remarks, and many scientists and cleaning companies advised people not to ingest the highly toxic products, and Trump later said his comments were sarcastic.
Haggerty reportedly helped efforts to persuade Tesla to open its factory in Fremont County, and had been in conversations over the last few weeks to get the factory reopened while also following health guidelines.
He said that the original plan was to open the production facility next week, and that Alameda County Health Officer Dr. Erica Pan had said that May 18 was the likely date.
‘Tesla opening before that date was certainly unfortunate. Dr. Pan has been very transparent that May 18th was the date she would like to see the major employer open up again,’ Haggerty said.
Late on Tuesday night, Tesla submitted a plan to demonstrate that it could open safely, and Haggerty said that the plan would be approved soon.
‘I can’t speak specifically to the plan that was handed in late last night. What I can say is the dialogues I was involved in. It’s going very well and some early plans I had seen, they looked very good,’ Haggerty said.
Fremont City Council member Vinnie Bacon was also hopeful that the plan could be approved, but also urged Tesla to be patient, saying that safety should come first and the car giant should be directed by Alameda County.
A woman is pictured outside the Tesla factory wearing a mask with Elon Musk’s face on in, holding a sign that reads ‘thank you for wearing your Musk’
Hours after the county ordered Tesla to cease production on Tuesday, officials appeared to soften their stance and said they had agreed to let the site reopen following a meeting with company representatives.
‘We reviewed the plan and held productive discussions today with Tesla’s representatives about their safety and prevention plans, including some additional safety recommendations,’ the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office tweeted.
‘If Tesla’s Prevention and Control Plan includes these updates, and the public health indicators remain stable or improve, we have agreed that Tesla can begin to augment their Minimum Business Operations this week in preparation for possible reopening as soon as next week.’
The statement said that the public-safety agency had informed Tesla it could only perform basic functions until it met safety measures, but stopped short of ordering a full closure of the plant.
The agency said: ‘We are addressing this matter using the same phased approach we use for other businesses which have violated the order in the past, and we hope that Tesla will likewise comply without further enforcement measures.’
The county did not confirm whether or not Tesla had agreed to stop its manufacturing processes until the new safety measures were in place.
The county health department issued a press release on Wednesday morning stating that Fremont police would verify whether Tesla was holding up its part of the agreement, adding that public health indicators have to remain stable or improve for the factory to stay open.
‘We will be working with the Fremont PD to verify Tesla is adhering to physical distancing and that agreed upon health and safety measures are in place for the safety of their workers as they prepare for full production,’ the release said.
Employees are seen entering the Fremont facility on Monday. Sources said that Tesla threatened to fire them if they refused to return to work amid the lockdown
Operations at the plant started again after being shut down on March 23 as the county implemented measures to slow the coronavirus. Pictured: A man walks toward semi-trucks loaded with Tesla cars
Semis loaded with new Tesla vehicles departed the Fremont facility on Monday, raising suspicion that they may have been produced before the shutdown
Workers wearing hard hats and high visibility jacks are pictured outside the factory
Tesla announced plans to fully reopen one of its other major production sites – the Gigafactory in Reno – in an email to staff on Monday.
The full reopening of the plant, which produces batteries for electric cars and energy storage products as well as parts for the Model 3, is a more aggressive move than what the company told employees to expect days earlier.
Last week, Tesla said it would only resume ‘limited operations’ at the plant as Nevada entered Phase One of its plan to restart some businesses.
Shortly after Musk tweeted about the Fremont plan on Monday, Reno workers received an email with the subject line: ‘Furlough Has Ended And We Are Back To Work in Production!’
‘We’re happy to get you back to work and have implemented very detailed plans to help keep you safe as you return,’ Valerie Workman, the head of HR for North America, wrote in the email that a current employee provided to The Verge.
The plans Workman outlined include increasing the number of employee shuttles that run to the Gigafactory to reduce their individual capacity and stocking them with unspecified personal protective equipment.
Workman said employees would be contacted within 24 hours with about their return-to-work date, adding that ‘in most cases, your position, supervisor, responsibilities, pay and hours will remain the same as before’.
An official for Storey County, where the Gigafactory is located, did not respond when asked for comment about Tesla’s reopening plans.
Model S vehicles are seen parked outside the Gigafactory outside Reno, Nevada
Tesla previously told employees on May 4 that it planned to reopen all three of its production facilities – those in Fremont, Reno and a third in New York.
The plans were quickly foiled as those states extended stay-at-home orders.
Last week California Gov Gavin Newsom approved the reopening of businesses in specific ‘low-risk’ sectors – including the transportation industry.
Under Newsom’s directives individual counties were allowed to implement their own measures based on the state of the pandemic in their areas.
Alameda County subsequently left automotive manufacturing off its list of essential businesses, meaning that the Tesla plant would have to remain closed.
Musk took issue with the county’s order extension over the weekend, tweeting that this was the ‘the final straw’ and threatening to move Tesla’s California headquarters and ‘future programs’.
The company filed a lawsuit against the county in an effort to invalidate the order.
Musk announced Tesla’s legal action against Alameda County in a tweet on Saturday
How moving Tesla HQ from California to Nevada or Texas could save Musk BILLIONS
The CEO threatened the move over the weekend after suing state officials for shuttering his facilities during the coronavirus crisis.
‘This is the final straw,’ Musk tweeted Saturday. ‘Tesla will move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately.’
If he were to follow through on that threat by moving from a state with the highest income tax rate in the country to one without income tax – like Nevada or Texas – he could save billions of dollars in taxes over the coming years, according to CNBC.
In the hours after Musk’s warning, Texas and Nevada politicians clambered to offer the billionaire sanctuary in their states.
His latest compensation program may be playing a factor in his threats.
Though not awarded yet, the package has earned him $708million in its latest sum, which would see him pay California $104million.
If he moved to Texas or Nevada, he would avoid the 13 percent tax rate and keep all of the cash.
Over time, the package is expected to earn Musk $55billion and California would take a cut of $7billion.
If he moves to an income tax-less state, he wouldn’t have to cough up a cent.
Musk called the order ‘super messed up’ in a separate tweet Monday, claiming that ‘all other auto companies in US are approved to resume. Only Tesla has been singled out.’
Musk has consistently pushed for Tesla to be considered essential, routinely voicing his frustration over the continued shutdown of the company’s biggest plant over the last few weeks.
The CEO said the shutdown should be viewed as a ‘serious risk’ to Tesla’s business during an April 29 conference call, and then went on profanity-laden rant about how the shutdowns were antithetical to America’s founding principles.
Public health experts have credited the stay-home orders with slowing the spread of novel coronavirus, helping hospitals handle an influx of cases. The coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people. But it has killed more than 80,000 people in the US, with the death toll rising.
Alameda County was among six San Francisco Bay Area counties that were the first in the nation to impose stay-at-home orders in mid-March. Gov. Gavin Newsom has repeatedly said that counties can impose restrictions that are more stringent than state orders.
The order in the Bay Area has been extended until the end of the month, but the counties plan to allow some limited business and manufacturing starting May 18, the same day Detroit automakers plan to reopen auto assembly plants. Some auto parts plants were to restart production this week.
The Detroit automakers’ 150,000 U.S. workers are represented by the United Auto Workers union, which has negotiated for added safety precautions. Tesla’s workers do not have a union.
Tesla contends in the lawsuit that Alameda County can’t be more restrictive than orders from Newsom.
The lawsuit says the governor’s coronavirus restrictions refer to federal guidelines classifying vehicle manufacturing as essential businesses that are allowed to continue operating.
Tesla released a plan to maintain worker safety, including the wearing of gloves and masks, installing barriers between workers and maintaining social distancing.
Haggerty said the company initially pushed back on checking employee temperatures before boarding a company bus to get to work. But Tesla relented, he said, and agreed to check workers.