Elon Musk Defies Lockdown Orders and Reopens Tesla's Factory


Alameda County has reported 2,101 cases of Covid-19 and 71 deaths. But factory workers travel to the Fremont facility from as far away as Stockton, 60 miles away to the northeast, on a network of shuttle buses. Tesla on Saturday published a plan to reopen the factory safely, including procedures for increased cleaning and shift changes to maintain social distancing. But assembly work often places employees in close proximity. The reopening plan also asked workers to bring or make their own personal protective equipment if the company has not provided it to them, and to perform a “complete self-health check” before returning to work. The document said workers may be required to undergo temperature or symptom screenings.

More than 10,000 people work at the Tesla factory, and the company employs more than 20,000 people statewide. The carmaker’s corporate headquarters are in Palo Alto, which also falls under Bay Area pandemic guidelines.

California governor Gavin Newsom seemed surprised Monday when reporters informed him during a press conference that the carmaker had reopened. “My understanding is when I walked up to the podium today that wasn’t the case,” he said. Newsom said he is a Tesla supporter, and said he hoped the carmaker could reach an agreement to reopen early next week.

Indeed, the very public battle over the reopening of the Tesla factory appears to be over just a few days of operation. On Saturday, Alameda County supervisor Scott Haggerty told The New York Times that officials were negotiating to reopen the assembly plant on May 18. “I know Elon knew that,” Haggerty told the Times. “But he wanted it this week.”

The “Big Three” US automakers, Ford, General Motors, and Fiat-Chrylser, have permission to reopen their Michigan facilities this week, but all three are waiting until next Monday to restart manufacturing.

Musk’s companies have repeatedly benefited from government help. In 2015 the Los Angeles Times estimated that Tesla, the energy company SolarCity (now a Tesla subsidiary), and SpaceX had received $4.9 billion in government support. That included a record-breaking $1.3 billion subsidy package from Nevada to build the company’s battery factory, and $950 million from New York state to help build a solar panel factory in Buffalo. Last month, the Buffalo News reported that Tesla intends to seek a one-year waiver of its commitment to create 1,460 jobs in the factory. If the waiver is not granted, the company may have to pay a $41 million penalty to the state.

Still, many officials are eager to lure Musk’s business to their towns and cities. Last month, Missouri officials publicized a $1 billion subsidy package to build a Cybertruck assembly plant in Joplin. Wichita, Kansas, sent up a trial balloon, too. And on Monday, Texas politicians responded to Musk’s promise to get the heck out of Fremont. “Southern Dallas would be a wonderful location for Tesla,” tweeted Dallas mayor Eric Johnson. “Let’s make it happen,” he wrote, tagging Texas governor Greg Abbott.

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