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Elon Musk Tells Tesla Workers Production Is Restarting At Idled California Plant


(Updates to note that Alameda County isn’t yet permitting Tesla to resume factory work.)

Furloughed Tesla

TSLA
workers appear to be getting ready to return to the electric-car maker’s San Francisco Bay Area assembly plant after CEO Elon Musk said California’s easing of coronavirus restrictions makes it possible to restart production following a six-and-a half-week shutdown. Local official say it can’t do so yet.

Musk and Tesla human resources chief Valerie Capers Workman emailed employees overnight Thursday alerting them of the company’s plan, according to copies of the messages obtained by Forbes. Workman said shifts at the Fremont plant will have only “30% of our normal head count,” and Musk said he’ll join workers on its production lines.

“In light of Governor Gavin Newsom’s statement earlier today approving manufacturing in California, we will aim to restart production in Fremont tomorrow afternoon,” Musk said. “I will be on the line personally, helping wherever I can. However, if you feel uncomfortable coming back to work at this time, please do not feel obligated to do so.”

In March, as COVID-19 infections began to spike, Musk initially resisted calls to halt work at Tesla’s main factory before closing it on March 23, 2020. Since then, he’s chafed at California’s ongoing stay-at-home order, calling the public health guidelines “fascist,” condoned Twitter posts from fringe media figures making false claims about coronavirus fatality figures and issued a string of erratic tweets, including lyrics from “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment on the restart plans. 

The company’s intentions are at odds with Alameda County, however, which last week extended its stay-at-home guidelines through May 31, 2020. Erica Pan, interim Health Officer for the Alameda County Public Health Department, said Friday the company can’t yet reopen. “We have not given the green light. We have been working with them looking at some of their safety plans. But no, we have not said that it is appropriate to move forward,” Pan said, according to CNBC

Tesla shares rose 5% in Nasdaq

NDAQ
trading to $
819.42, presumably because investors are pleased with the restart plan. The stock has more than doubled since tumbling in mid-March, buoyed by the carmaker’s positive first-quarter results. The increase despite the ongoing health crisis, massive economic downturn and U.S. unemployment approaching 15%, seems premature as sales are likely to suffer in the second and third quarters due to diminished consumer demand for big-ticket items. 

Newsom on Thursday released guidance for lower-risk industries to reopen, including “manufacturing and logistics associated.” To comply, manufacturers need to close break rooms and create “outdoor break areas with physically distanced seating.”

Separately, media reports say Tesla’s new Shanghai plant, which opened in January and continued building Model 3 electric cars throughout much of the health crisis, has temporarily halted production work, owing to parts shortages. The company told factory workers this week that the five-day break for China’s Labor Day holiday would be extended to May 9, 2020, Bloomberg reported, citing people who asked not to be named as the information isn’t public.

Fremont’s closure led Tesla to implement across-the-board pay cuts for all employees in April, as well as furloughs for thousands of U.S. factory workers who were instructed to apply for unemployment. Meanwhile, Musk this week appears to have qualified for a massive stock payment worth more than $700 million, the result of achieving both operational and market capitalization targets. 

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