The move comes as states and cities around the United States experiment with ways to safely reopen their economies after the coronavirus outbreak shuttered businesses and forced tens of millions of Americans out of work.
Musk over the weekend threatened to leave California for Texas or Nevada over his factory’s closure. His move has highlighted the competition for jobs and ignited a rush to woo the billionaire executive by states that have reopened their economies more quickly in response to encouragement from U.S. President Donald Trump.
In an email on Monday, Tesla referred to an order on Thursday by California’s governor allowing manufacturers to resume operations and said that as of Sunday, previously furloughed employees were back to their regular employment status.
“We’re happy to get back to work and have implemented very detailed plans to help you keep safe as you return,” according to the email seen by Reuters and titled “Furlough Has Ended And We Are Back To Work in Production!”
Musk in a tweet said production was resuming on Monday, adding that he would join workers on the assembly line. “If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me,” he wrote.
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
Health officials in Alameda County, where the Fremont factory is based, late on Monday said they were aware that Tesla had opened beyond the so-called minimum basic operations allowed during lockdown, and had notified the company it could not operate without a county-approved plan.
In a statement, officials said they expected a proposal from Tesla later on Monday and “hope Tesla will likewise comply without further enforcement measures.” The statement did not specify consequences and said officials would not comment further.
The county’s lockdown order says violations are punishable by fine, imprisonment or both.
A spokeswoman for the Fremont Police Department on Monday said her office was enforcing the lockdown order at the direction of the health department and had been advised that the county is working with Tesla directly.
Separately on Monday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said California should do whatever is necessary to help the electric carmaker reopen its only U.S. vehicle factory if it wants to keep the company in its state.
California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday said he spoke to Musk several days ago and that the Tesla founder’s concerns helped prompt the state to begin its phased reopening of manufacturing last week.
“I have not only known that company but I have known its founder for many, many years,” Newsom said in his daily coronavirus press briefing. “I have great reverence for their technology, for their innovative spirit, for their leadership.”
Tesla, which also has a vehicle plant in Shanghai and is building another in Berlin, on Saturday sued the county, alleging it had violated California’s constitution by defying Newsom’s orders allowing manufacturers to reopen.
Musk on Twitter has also alleged that Tesla is the only auto company which is not being allowed to open.
Yes, California approved, but an unelected county official illegally overrode. Also, all other auto companies in US are approved to resume. Only Tesla has been singled out. This is super messed up!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 11, 2020
However, Musk's enthusiasm to re-open operations was not met with positive reactions by Netizens - most wanted him to care about the health and safety of his newborn, as well as that of his workers.
It blows my mind that you're willing to risk the health of your child to build some cars.... why don't you—someone whose net worth has gone up $10 billion in the past year—just pay your workers to stay at home for a couple weeks?— Pé (@4everNeverTrump) May 11, 2020
Putting peoples lives in danger for profit? Pretty spot on!— temporaryproblem (@temporaryprobl1) May 11, 2020
Go to jail nerd— Rob (@robrousseau) May 11, 2020
It really has. I used to think Elon Musk was trying to save the world. Space X would make space travel easier. Tesla would make green energy commonplace, and the Boring Company would eliminate traffic jams. But this pandemic has exposed him as another selfish billionaire.— Matthew J. Martin (@matthewjmartin_) May 11, 2020
Yes, that's how laws work. You can choose who gets arrested for violating them because you are rich.— Sam Riegel (@samriegel) May 11, 2020
Man, imagine if you valued your workers’ right to organize a union as much as you value your workers’ right to die to raise your stock prices— Mike Drucker (@MikeDrucker) May 11, 2020
(With inputs from Reuters.)