On Monday, the California Department of Health (CDPH) announced that Tesla, along with a small number of other factories deemed critical for the state, would be allowed to remain open during the latest COVID-19 shutdowns and curfew in the state.
Tesla was exempted because of manufacturing being listed as an essential part of the workforce, as opposed to the March and May restrictions earlier this year that had attempted to halt nearly all work at factories and manufacturing plants in the state. Specifically, Tesla’s listing this month places it in the “Transportation Equipment Manufacturing Products” section of the “Critical Manufacturing Sector.” This means that, while safety measures such as the use of PPE and proper social distancing must be in force, the Tesla factory in Fremont can continue to operate as usual.
“The Critical Manufacturing Sector identifies several industries to serve as the core of the sector including Transportation Equipment Manufacturing Products,” said the CDPH on Monday.
The exemption came as a surprise to many as Tesla, led by it’s founder and CEO Elon Musk, has been very resistant to California’s lockdown and defiant against previous attempts by the state to shut the plant down due to COVID-19 risk.
In March, Musk and other Tesla officials fought against statewide shutdown measures. Musk and Tesla fought these restrictions, even going so far as to threaten to leave California in May. This led to Musk suing the state and some California lawmakers, like Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who publicly cursed Musk in social media.
“F**k Elon Musk,” tweeted Gonzalez in May.
F*ck Elon Musk.
— Lorena Gonzalez (@LorenaSGonzalez) May 10, 2020
In the end Musk decided to stay in California for the time being, reopening his factory only days after his initial move announcement in defiance of Alameda County and state health laws.
“If you look closely at the Critical Manufacturing Sector exemptions for essential workers, it’s easy to see that the Transportation Equipment Manufacturing Products part of that pretty much only covers a few places in California, by far the largest being Tesla,” explained Oakland labor lawyer Anthony Hopper. “It’s just a too-narrow superlative. It should have just been called ‘Tesla and friends.'”
“Musk and Tesla had just shook California that hard earlier this year. They don’t want another legal fight, they don’t want to threaten to send law enforcement again, and they don’t want to keep going after them.”
“Now, there is honest-to-God merit in allowing them to reopen. People need new cars, they need new car parts, and they need car repairs. Especially when it affects services in California or helping other essential workers during the lockdown.”
“But all the signs are there, including from the county. Last time around, Alameda County did everything to keep the factory closed, only for Musk to reopen it anyway. Counties, like before, still have the power for local measures to be far more restrictive than the state, but they aren’t pulling the trigger this time.”
“No one wants to be the one to arrest Musk for breaking curfew. Musk stood them down once before by accepting arrest should it come to that.”
“Tesla wants to stay open for continued production, workers generally want to continue working there for having a job and all, and the state and county, while needing essential cars and car parts, also don’t really want to be embarrassed again like they were repeatedly in May.”
Alameda County has yet to make a final decision on additional COVID-19 measure as of Monday, but it is widely expected that the Tesla plant will remain open.