Musk reopens Tesla’s plant, dares authorities to arrest him

By BLOOMBERG | 12 May 2020

Newsom (left) and Musk are seen in a combination photo. — Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO: Elon Musk said Tesla Inc is flouting the California county that blocked the company from reopening its only US car plant by restarting production at the facility.

“I will be on the line with everyone else,” the chief executive officer said in a tweet Monday. “If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”

Tesla told production workers earlier that it was getting back to work at its factory in Fremont, California, after local officials stood in the way of the reopening last week.

Musk drew words of support from the US Treasury Secretary and several CEOs after he threatened to pull the company out of the state.

Musk’s attack has made local officials in Alameda County, which neighbours the location of the first confirmed death of Covid-19 in the US, the latest to come under fire for their handling of reopening the economy from the coronavirus outbreak.

President Donald Trump pressured governors last month to “liberate” their states, then second-guessed leaders for reopening both too fast and too slowly.

Valerie Capers Workman, Tesla’s head of North American human resources, said in an email to production workers that their furlough ended Sunday and that managers will contact them within 24 hours with their start date and schedule.

Those who aren’t comfortable returning to work can stay home on unpaid leave but may no longer be eligible for jobless benefits, she said.

In conflict

The email conflicted with remarks California governor Gavin Newsom made during his daily press briefing Monday, which took place before Musk’s tweet. Newsom said he expected the company’s plant would be able to reopen as early as next week.

“My understanding is they have had some very constructive conversations,” Newsom said, referring to Tesla and Alameda County, where Fremont is located. “My belief and hope and expectation is as early as next week, they will be able to resume.”

Tesla sued the county over the weekend after it told the company on May 8 that it didn’t meet criteria to reopen.

Newsom, who allowed manufacturing in parts of the state to restart that day, said Monday that the county was allowed to enforce stricter rules around reopening. The health officers for Alameda and six other San Francisco Bay area counties and cities decided late last month to extend their restrictions on businesses through the end of May.

‘Green light’ claim

Capers Workman told employees that the state had “given the green light for manufacturing to resume,” which was at odds with Newsom’s remarks.

When asked about Tesla reopening its Fremont plant regardless of Alameda’s order, Newsom said he was unaware.

“It was my understanding when I walked up to the podium today that that wasn’t the case,” he said.

Alameda’s public health department declined to comment.

Musk, 48, tweeted over the weekend that Alameda’s refusal to let Tesla reopen the Fremont factory was “the final straw” and that he’d immediately move Tesla’s headquarters to Nevada or Texas.

Newsom said Monday the state has a strong relationship with Tesla, calling it “a company that this state has substantively supported for now many, many years.” Musk then thanked the governor in a tweet.