Elon Musk's resentment over the coronavirus lockdown in California has finally culminated into a rebellious reopening of his Tesla factory in Fremont. In defiance of the state's rules to keep 'non-essential' businesses temporarily closed, Musk has restarted operations at his Tesla factory without state approval and announced its reopening on Twitter. His actions have earned the support of President Trump, who tweeted in favor of Musk on Tuesday morning.
The move might not come as a surprise to people keeping track of Musk's fits. Tesla's infamously outspoken CEO has threatened to do this for a while now as he tweeted and repeated arguments typically made by anti-lockdown protesters that claim the restrictions are a violation of a person's autonomy. His frustration has leaked offline as well; he kneecapped his own stock price when he tweeted it was "too high," complained that Tesla was being singled out by California officials, threw insults at Alameda County’s interim public health officer, threatened to sue the county, and slipped in a rant about the restrictions during an earnings call in April, calling the laws "fascist."
"This is not democratic," he said during the call. "This is not freedom. Give people back their goddamn freedom."
California officials have stated they wanted to continue working together with Musk to safely reopen the plant without creating additional health risks to the workers and their families. Musk countered with the claim that his company knows how to reduce risks in the factory due to prior experience with Covid-19 in China. Tesla's Shanghai Gigafactory was one of the production facilities that was temporarily shut down amid the outbreak.
However, although China worked hard to help Tesla restart the plant, the factory has been shut down again due to coronavirus-related shortages. This means Tesla isn't making any cars at all, which could be one reason why he's itching to get one of this plants working again.
It's not impossible for a factory to reopen during a pandemic, but doing so safely requires "vigilant hygiene, protective gear" and "procedures," tweeted former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb. Deaths of employees and rapid spread of infections in Amazon warehouses and meatpacking plants have shown that the worst that can happen when employees aren't kept safe by their employers.
"[I]f somebody wants to stay in their house, that's great," Musk said during last month's earnings call. "They should be allowed to stay in their house, and they should not be compelled to leave."
However, although Musk's words implied employees could decide whether to return to work, he failed to address the concern that reopening forces workers to choose between their work, their health, and the health of the people they're living with. As some states eagerly reopen businesses, some employees have expressed unease and mistrust over contracting and spreading the virus — yet they returned to work out of fear of losing their ability to support themselves and their families.
"We're extremely frustrated, angry, scared, that Elon is putting his cars before his workers," one Tesla employee told the Washington Post. "He's putting those cars before his employees and their well-being."
Mic has reached out to Tesla for comment, and will update this post if we receive a response.