Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk on Monday restarted production in its Fremont, California factory defying local county officials who had ordered the company to stay closed to slow the spread of coronavirus.
In a tweet, Musk openly dared local authorities to arrest him, adding that he would join workers on the assembly line and if anyone has to be arrested it should be him.
“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,” he tweeted Monday afternoon.
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.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 11, 2020
The plant in Fremont, south of San Francisco, had been closed since March 23, as it was deemed a nonessential business that could not open under virus restrictions. The county’s lockdown order says violations are punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.
Musk argued that the statewide stay-at-home order put in place by California’s governor allows Tesla’s auto manufacturing plant to resume operations.
The Freemont car factory in California which employs 10,000 workers on early Monday was nearly full with semis driving off loaded with vehicles that were likely produced before the shutdown.
After the initial tweet, Musk later stated that state officials had approved the reopening but that the move had been blocked by local authorities.
“California approved, but an unelected county official illegally overrode,” he said. “Also, all other auto companies in the US are approved to resume. Only Tesla has been singled out. This is super messed up!”
Musk’s move comes amid the gradual reopening of businesses across the U.S. to contain the deadly coronavirus outbreak that has closed businesses and forced tens of millions of Americans out of work.
On Saturday, Musk threatened to pull Tesla’s headquarters and factory out of California and move them along with future projects to Nevada or Texas.
“Frankly, this is the final straw. Tesla will now move its HQ and future programs to Texas/Nevada immediately,” Musk tweeted just before the company filed a lawsuit against Alameda County in federal court in the Northern District of California seeking injunctive relief.
“It would be a sad day if the Fremont police walked into Tesla and arrested Elon Musk,” said Scott Haggerty, the County Supervisor for the district in Alameda where Tesla’s Fremont plant is located. “The tweets that go back and forth are unfortunate, and we need to get to the table, talk our way through this and get people back to work in a safe manner.”
Before the court could rule, Musk on Monday reopened the factory and restarted the production of cars.
Responding to the issue, Alameda County Public Health Department said in a statement that the department was aware Tesla had restarted production.
“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,” Alameda County added.
“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.”
On the other hand, Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Treasury Secretary, supported Elon Musk and also encouraged the state to do whatever is required to ensure the opening of Tesla’s Freemont car factory if it wants to keep the company in its state.
“I agree with Elon Musk,” Mnuchin said on CNBC Monday morning. “He’s one of the biggest employers and manufacturers in California, and California should prioritize doing whatever they need to do to solve those health issues so that he can open quickly and safely.”