FREMONT (CBS SF) — President Donald Trump joined the raging debate early Tuesday over Tesla owner Elon Musk’s open defiance of Alameda County’s shelter-in-place mandate in reopening his Fremont assembly plant.
Workers arrived for their day shifts early at the sprawling plant on Tuesday — a day after Musk took to social media to announce: “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.”
The county on Tuesday sent a letter to a Tesla ordering electric car-maker to cease operations.
Earlier Tuesday, Trump took to Twitter to weigh in, posting: “California should let Tesla & @elonmusk open the plant, NOW. It can be done Fast & Safely!”
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The local debate over Musk’s action has drawn both support and criticism.
“This whole situation is relatively confusing to Elon Musk, too,” said Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty. ‘He has a federal order that says he’s an essential business, he has a state order that says he’s an essential business, and the county says ‘No you’re not and you can’t open.’ So I think he is in a difficult position to and he’s trying to figure his way out.“
One Tesla employee who asked to remain anonymous told KPIX 5 employees feel like they are in limbo while the company and county duke it out .
As for small business owners who are playing by the rules, Haggerty said, “To me if I was a business owner and I was playing by the rules and someone broke the rules I think I would probably maybe look at something different, too.”
KPIX 5 obtained an email Elon Musk sent to his employees tha king them for working hard to make Tesla successful. Part of the email said, “It iis so cool seeing the factory come back to life and you are making it happen!”
When asked if Tesla will they face penalties, Haggerty said, “The last thing I would want to see is a visual of the lawn in handcuffs having said that I think that any penalties that could come forward comes from the district attorney.“
On Tuesday, the parking lot at the Pacific Commons shopping center in Fremont was deserted Monday afternoon with most of the large anchor stores shut down. Just down the road, the employee parking lot at the Tesla factory was jam-packed.
“He’s putting workers at risk, I think,” said Fremont resident Carol Quinn. “I’m sure they haven’t done all the protocols that need to be done to keep people safe in that factory.”
When Musk defied the health order and reopened his plant Monday, it put the county in a difficult position: whether to force the shutdown of one of its biggest employers.
“I think they should open,” said Stephanie Moniz, a dental assistant who remains out of work. “I mean, it’s a big company. Everybody relies on that. I have family members who live here in Fremont who are not working because the company’s closed.”
The county says it is reviewing Tesla’s safety measures, but if the company is allowed to stay open, what does that say for small businesses like the Prime Nails Salon?
Owner Teresa Ngo doesn’t have billions of dollars to tide her over. She hasn’t made a dime since being shut down on March 17, but still has to pay normal monthly rent to keep the business alive.
“If Tesla is open, we should be open too,” she said.
Ngo has also installed safety measures like plastic screens between work stations. And unlike Tesla, which employs thousands of workers, Teresa’s shop only has five. Or at least it did until it was shut down for being too much of a health risk.
“If everyone is closed for safety, it’s ok…fair. But if some are open, some closed, I don’t think that’s fair. Doesn’t matter if it’s big business or small business, you know?” she said.
Even among Tesla employees there is also some debate. Most welcome the return and a steady paycheck, while a few are worried about their health.
A Tesla production line employee, who did not want to be identified, told KPIX that he was told by his supervisor to return to work on Sunday at 6 p.m. However, the employee said he chose to follow the county’s stay-at-home order instead.
“The employees are caught in a power struggle,” he said. “I was told I was going to be removed from furlough, placed on unpaid leave and told that my unemployment benefits could be impacted.”
Even with Tesla’s extra precautions, the anonymous Tesla employee said it’s still not enough. He has a newborn at home.
“You’re going to be interacting with several different people all throughout the day, touching all the same tools that they’re touching,” he said.
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