Tesla prepares to bring back 30% of Fremont factory workers in spite of county order

Tesla is aiming to ramp up “limited operations” at its factory in Fremont, Calif., a decision that puts the company and its CEO Elon Musk in direct conflict with a stay-at-home order in Alameda County.

Update: On Friday, Alameda County health officials said the automaker was told not to reopen.

Employees received two emails — one from Musk and another from Valerie Workman, the company’s human resources director — indicating that the factory would open as early as Friday. Bloomberg was the first to report the emails. The decision to open was based on new guidance from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who said Thursday that manufacturers could resume operations.

However, Tesla is ignoring other parts of Newsom’s announcement, specifically that local governments could keep more restrictive rules in place. Tesla’s Fremont factory is located in Alameda County, which along with several other Bay Area counties and cities, issued revised stay-at-home orders that will last through the end of May. Those revised orders did ease some of the restrictions. However, if followed, Tesla wouldn’t be allowed to restart production of its Model S, Model X, Model 3 and now Model Y vehicles until June 1.

Officials at Alameda County could not be reached for comment. However, the county and other surrounding Bay Area cities and counties issued a joint statement Thursday, reiterating its order:

It is important that our local communities understand that the regional Health Orders that took effect May 4 are still in effect. These orders — in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties and the City of Berkeley — loosen restrictions on construction as well as outdoor activities and businesses. The Bay Area orders do not currently permit curbside pickup from non-essential, nonoutdoor businesses, and that is not allowed to begin on Friday, May 8.

Later in the statement, the officials said “in our current environment, if a county order differs from a state order, the more restrictive order takes precedence.”

Tesla did not respond to requests for comment.

Tesla has battled with Alameda officials before over regulations put in place due to COVID-19. The dispute began March 16 after Alameda County ordered all nonessential businesses to close, including bars, gyms and dine-in restaurants, because of the global spread of COVID-19.

Tesla kept the Fremont factory open despite the order, claiming that part of the company’s operations fell under an exemption in the county’s order. Musk told employees in an email that the company would continue operations at the Fremont factory. He also told employees they should not feel obligated to come to work if they “feel the slightest bit ill or even uncomfortable.”

The Alameda County Sheriff disagreed, and on March 17 tweeted that Tesla was not “essential.” The automaker still ignored the order and the sheriff’s tweet. Employees received another email from Workman that the factory was still open for production, because it had “conflicting guidance from different levels of government.” The email told employees to come to work if their job is to produce, service, deliver or test its electric vehicles.

A week after the order went into effect, Tesla suspended production at the Fremont factory. Basic operations have continued at the factory per an agreement with the county. The company said at the time it would suspend production through May 4, prompting it to cut pay for salaried employees between 10% and 30%, as well as furlough workers.

But toward the end of April, the Bay Area counties extended the stay-at-home order, triggering a tweetstorm from Musk, who criticized the rules and at one point wrote “FREE AMERICA NOW.”