Coronavirus Update: Defiant Musk Confirms Tesla Fremont Plant Reopening; Gov. Newsom Unaware
FREMONT (CBS SF) -- Telsa CEO Elon Musk continued to defy state and Alameda County authorities by restarting production at the Fremont assembly plant Monday, saying he was ready to be arrested himself if necessary.
Earlier Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he was unaware that the Telsa plant had restarted operations. When asked at his daily coronavirus news briefing to comment on Musk's previous demands that Tesla be allowed to resume production at the plant, Newsom said he hoped the company would be given a green light to start up next week.
ALSO READ: Tesla's Defiance To Alameda County Health Order Raises Questions Of Fairness
Shift workers were seen streaming in and out of the sprawling plant in the pre-dawn hours, filling up the employee parking lot. The company reportedly has deployed additional PPE masks and taken other measures similar to those used to reopen the automaker's plant in Shanghai, China.
Verve, quoting two unnamed workers, said production had actually restarted on a limited basis over the weekend and around 200 Model Y and Model 3 vehicles had rolled off the assembly line.
Monday afternoon Musk tweeted that production was indeed restarting at the Fremont plant against Alameda County rules, that he would be on the production line himself, and should anyone be arrested he asked that it be him.
A spokesman for the Alameda County Public Health Department issued a statement said authorities were "addressing this matter using the same phased approach we use for other businesses which have violated the [health order] in the past, and we hope Tesla will likewise comply without further enforcement measures."
The statement said the county was working with Tesla toward "an agreed upon safety plan for reopening beyond Minimum Basic Operations." For its part, Tesla has already released a detailed "Return To Work Playbook" for the plant's reopening.
Earlier Monday, Newsom seemed unaware of the drama unfolding in the Bay Area.
"My understanding is they have had some very constructive conversations with the folks at that facility," Newsom said of talks between Alameda County health officials and Tesla. "The county health director and they are working to focus on the health and safety of the employees at that facility and my belief and hope and expectation is as early as next week, they will be able to resume."
Raw Video: Gov. Newsom Remarks On Tesla Reopening
"I am encourage by what I am hearing. And again I respect the decision on a regional basis of these counties coming together and what's happening on the ground. The conditions present themselves uniquely in the Bay Area as one example versus other parts of the state. Manufacturing broadly throughout California is no longer restricted with modifications."
When asked a second time, Newsom again said he felt the company could move forward with its plans in a number of days.
"I have not only known this company, but I have known its founder for a many, many years," Newsom said. "I have great respect for their technology, for their innovative spirit. For their leadership. I have great expectations that we are working through this on the county level. The issue with this particular county and this company will be worked out in the next number of days."
When asked if he knew that the plant has reopened and had he had discussions with Musk, Newsom replied:
"I can't attest to the fact the he has reopened today," the governor said. "I'm not aware of the details of that. Yes, we did have a conversation a number of days ago. We made the modification. He wanted clarification on the state modification where we did move forward with the manufacturing logistics and retail augmentations."
A fourth time, Newsom was asked.
"My understanding when I walked up to the podium today that was not the case (Tesla had reopened)," he said. "I'm trying to monitor hundreds of thousands of businesses all throughout the state. I'm trying to work with business large and small."
One Tesla employee who preferred not to use his name and who works on the main production line building Model 3's made the decision not to return to work over the weekend. He said he was following the county's health and safety guidelines but now he worries he may be fired .
"I was told I would be removed from furlough, placed on unpaid leave, and that my unemployment benefits could be impacted by my decision not to return," he said.
With a newborn at home, the worker said he also wants to know there are safety precautions when he returns to the production line.
"You've got up to four people working on car at the same time sharing tools ... You have to wear masks and the masks all it does is fog up your safety glasses."
Health Officials have been working with Tesla on a safety plan to reopen on May 18, but the battle between Musk and county officials has been simmering since March when a restrictive stay-at-home order was put into place. After keeping the doors of the plant open for a few days, claiming Tesla was an essential business and allowed to remain open under the mandate, Musk closed the facility when the Alameda County Sheriff's Department threatened to take action.
On Saturday, Musk fired off a series of tweets, pronouncing the company's next move.
"Tesla is filing a lawsuit against Alameda County immediately," the first Twitter post read. "The unelected & ignorant "Interim Health Officer" of Alameda is acting contrary to the Governor, the President, our Constitutional freedoms & just plain common sense! -- Elon Musk @elonmusk
He followed with "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. "
Hours later, Tesla attorneys sent out a copy of the lawsuit -- Click to read the legal filing.
Musk's Twitter outbursts, lawsuit and threat to relocate drew reaction from local officials.
"California and the Bay Area are demonstrating every day that we can protect public health and reopen our economy at the same time," said Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council. "We strongly urge Alameda County public health officials to work with Tesla and other employers in figuring out a plan that can allow them to safely resume operations sooner rather than later."
"We must send a strong signal to businesses and the millions of workers who have lost their jobs that the Bay Area and California are just as eager to restart our economy and get people back to work as we are to stamp out this pandemic."
Fremont City councilmember Raj Salwan told KPIX 5 Monday said Tesla was not getting any special privileges to resume work at the plant. "Tesla has not been given the green light to operate," he said.
Fremont Mayor Lily Mei issued the following statement urging county officials to work with businesses, seeming to support Musk.
"As the local shelter-in-place order continues without provisions for major manufacturing activity, such as Tesla, to resume, I am growing concerned about the potential implications for our regional economy," Mei said. "We know many essential businesses have proven they can successfully operate using strict safety and social distancing practices. I strongly believe these same practices could be possible for other manufacturing businesses, especially those that are so critical to our employment base. The City encourages the County to engage with our local businesses to come up with acceptable guidelines for re-opening our local economy. "
Musk has been an early and frequent critic of the shelter-in-place order.
- Flouting County Lockdown, Tesla Brings Workers Back to Fremont Factory
- Elon Musk Criticizes Coronavirus Stay-At-Home Orders, Calling Them 'Fascist'
"I would call it, 'forcibly imprisoning people in their homes' against all their Constitutional rights, in my opinion, and breaking people's freedoms in ways that are horrible and wrong and not why people came to America or built this country," Musk tweeted on April 30. "It's an outrage."
The county's health department issued a statement Saturday afternoon, saying that it had been working closely with Tesla in 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."
Although the department didn't announce lifting restrictions, the statement said "we look forward to coming to an agreement on an appropriate safety plan very soon."
The department said many businesses and residents had made sacrifices to protect community health. "It is our collective responsibility to move through the phases of reopening and loosening the restrictions of the Shelter-in-Place Order in the safest way possible, guided by data and science."
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Tesla employs at least 14,000 workers in the region and the idea of taking those jobs away worries Alameda County District 1 Supervisor Scott Haggerty.
"I brought Tesla to Fremont," Haggerty told KPIX 5. "I brought it to Alameda County. I worked with them when they were looking for a plant. So, last thing I would want to see in my last year of office is to see that plant close. It would be devastating to me."
Despite Musk's threat, it would be costly and difficult to quickly shift production from Fremont to Texas or Nevada. The Fremont facility, which was formerly run jointly by General Motors and Toyota, currently is Tesla's only U.S. vehicle assembly plant and the company would lose critical production if it shut the plant down to move equipment.
"Moving away from Fremont would take at least 12 to 18 months and could add risk to the manufacturing and logistics process in the meantime," Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives wrote in a note to investors.
But Musk plans another U.S. factory to increase output, possibly in Texas, and could move production once that plant is up and running.
The lack of production in Fremont cuts off Tesla's revenue and is a big financial strain. On a conference call last month, Musk said the company only has assembly plants in Fremont and Shanghai, and the Fremont facility produces the majority of its vehicles. He called the closure of Fremont a "serious risk."
© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. KPIX 5's Kiet Do, Juliette Goodrich, The Associated Press and CNN contributed to this report.
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