On Wednesday morning, Fremont Tesla factory workers reported in for work in an acknowledged violation of the Alameda County shelter-in-place order. CEO Elon Musk noted that he would be on the floor of the factory as well and asked that only he be arrested should arrests be made.
The order was not met with full enthusiasm with a protest gathering outside of the factory on Saturday, attended by factory workers and activist groups calling for Musk’s arrest.
“Elon Musk who is a billionaire has said he is above the law,” commented a member of activist organization Public Workers for Action Advocacy. “He doesn’t have to follow the shelter in place law and he said you come and arrest me. Well I say the government here in Fremont and the government of California should arrest him.”
Yet the Tesla and SpaceX CEO has not faced arrest thus far, and following a lawsuit filed by Tesla against the County of Alameda accompanied by Musk’s threats to move the factory to Texas and an endorsement from the president, the Freemont factory was given county clearance to reopen.
In a recent CNN interview, Governor Newsom denied that Tesla received preferential treatment through the affair. “They moved. They challenged the stay-at-home order that Alameda County had in place,” he said. “They did work with Alameda County partners. And Alameda County health officials are satisfied that they are likely to reach those thresholds as early as Monday.”
Nevertheless, not all workers are optimistic about the conditions. One employee told the Verge that they were apprehensive about returning to work due to the close-quarter conditions of the factory.
The Tesla factory had been kept open past the initial county shelter-in-place order of March 17th and was provided with county clearance to maintain minimal operation despite not being considered an essential business, though the factory finally did close nearly one week later.
Since early March, Musk has criticized public response to the spread of COVID-19. He informed SpaceX employees on March 13th that they were more likely to die from a car accident than from the virus, though US COVID-19 deaths during the two months between March 17th and May 17th have more than doubled the estimated number of motor vehicle fatalities in the US in the entire year of 2019.
Musk has additionally tweeted false information about the virus, claiming that children are ‘essentially immune‘. Despite a recent push against COVID-19 misinformation, with the post explicitly stating that tweets perpetuating the child-immunity myth will be removed, the company defended Musk’s tweet as not violating their policy.
“We get lured in by the ‘Tesla Dream’ of saving the planet only to get treated so poorly that even though I love my job,” a Tesla employee commented to the Verge, “I’m not willing to risk my health for him [Musk].”