US electric car manufacturer TESLA Inc.’s CEO Elon Musk announced the reopening of the company’s plant in Fremont, California, on May 12. This is defiance of the order of local health officials to keep the factory shut in order to protect workers from COVID-19. The Tesla factory in Fremont has over 10,000 workers.
Musk had threatened to leave California and shift to other States if he was not allowed to reopen the factory. He tweeted that “Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County [where the factory is located] rules. I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”
According to WIRED, Tesla had filed a lawsuit against Alameda County on Saturday in a federal court in the Northern District of California. The lawsuit alleged the county of violating the fourteenth amendment of the US constitution and asked the court to allow the company to resume operations. Tesla argued that the county officials’ decisions violated provisions as per which government policies that infringe on people’s freedom need to have a rational basis. However, on Monday, May 11, Musk went ahead and announced the reopening without waiting for the court order.
Alameda county public health department issued a statement saying it was addressing the issue “in accordance with the local public health Order. 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.”
Workers will have to travel miles to reach their work site with the reopening of the factory. Despite an announcement by Tesla that safety norms will be followed, it is highly uncertain if physical distancing will be possible. The company has also not assured Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for all the workers and even asked them to procure safety gear on their own. In the plan drawn up by Tesla, the responsibility of ensuring safety is left completely to the workers.
Musk has been a denier of the threat posed by the novel coronavirus and had, in April, termed the orders for the shutdown as “fascistic.” He has been accused of various anti-worker moves in the past, including union-breaking.
With more than 1.3 million cases of COVID-19 and over 81,000 deaths so far, the US is the most affected country in the world. California alone has more than 66,600 cases and has reported 2,000 deaths. Alameda county has recorded more than 2,100 cases of COVID-19 and 71 deaths.