California Gov. Newsom says he didn’t know Tesla reopened its factory, defying coronavirus orders

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KEY POINTS
  • Despite local Covid-19 health orders, Tesla reopened its Fremont car plant this week.
  • California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he didn’t know that Elon Musk’s car company had reopened, and said he was looking into the matter.
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Gov. Gavin Newsom of California
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California
Rich Pedroncelli | AP

California Gov. Gavin Newsom was surprised on Monday when a reporter informed him that Tesla has already reopened its Fremont factory to resume production.

“As it was just mentioned, I need the details of that. My understanding is when I walked up to the podium today that wasn’t the case. I’m trying to monitor hundreds of thousands of businesses all throughout the state of California,” the governor said at a Monday news conference.

As CNBC previously reported, production employees were booked for shifts this week starting Sunday at Tesla. On Monday, local TV broadcasters showed employees’ cars streaming into the company’s parking lots.

Tesla reached out to employees on Friday to schedule shifts. Over the weekend, Elon Musk took to Twitter to announce that Tesla was filing a lawsuit against Alameda County, where Fremont is located, and would take Tesla’s headquarters and possibly all of its operations out of the state in response to the Covid-19 health orders.

Musk had previously called shelter-in-place orders and other health orders affecting Tesla “fascist.” After Newsom’s press conference, Musk tweeted that “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.”

Three Fremont employees told CNBC that they were scheduled to return to work this week, but only wanted to if the factory is deemed safe amid the pandemic. The employees requested their names not be disclosed, as they were not authorized by the company to conduct press interviews.

One said they had begun to look for another job, fearing that they would not be able to adhere to the safety protocols, including social distancing and other measures, recommended to protect against Covid-19 while assembling cars in Fremont. Failure to adhere to the protocols could result in their getting sick, or fired, and then ineligible for unemployment, they said.

At the plant, employees often do physically tiring tasks in close proximity, while touching the same equipment. They do not have much time to take leave to wash their hands, the employees all noted, and bathrooms at the factory aren’t always in a pristine condition.

CNBC asked local authorities how they would respond to Tesla’s reopening its factory against county health orders and the recommendations of Interim Public Health Officer Dr. Erica Pan.

A spokesperson for the Fremont district supervisor’s office in Alameda County, Shawn Wilson, wrote in an emailed reply: “The Order states that your question of enforcement is left up to the local policing agency, so your question should be directed to the Fremont Police Department. If Tesla violates the order, it would be Fremont Police Department’s decision to enforce or not enforce.”

On Monday afternoon, the Alameda County Sheriff and Alameda County Public Health Care Services Agency said

View image on Twitter

: “Today, May 11, we learned that the Tesla factory in Fremont had opened beyond Minimum Basic Operations. We have notified Tesla that they can only maintain Minimum Basic Operations until we have an approved plan that can be implemented in accordance with the local public health Order.”The county also noted, “We are actively communicating our feedback and understand Tesla will submit a site-specific plan later today as required under the State of California guidance and checklist for manufacturing issued on May 7. We look forward to reviewing Tesla’s plan and coming to agreement on protocol and a timeline to reopen safely.”

The Fremont Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.

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