Renewable Roundup: Elon Musk gets permission to reopen a Tesla plant (safely)
Elon Musk claims that the fascists in Alameda County are bullying him by keeping his car plants closed, while the County is rather upset with Musk bullying them, and threatening to take all of his marbles elsewhere. We seem to have a compromise. Musk gets to reopen a Tesla factory, and the rest of us get to see him do it under some approximation of safety rules.
Tesla allowed to restart ‘full production’ in California after contentious battle with county officials, company execs tell employees
Tesla is reopening production at its Fremont, California factory this week, according to a letter obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Fremont facility became a major point of contention between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Alameda County officials; Musk even threatened to move Tesla’s operations out of California over the dust up.
Musk has been a vocal critic of government-issued guidance during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. He’s called stay-at-home orders unconstitutional and fascist, and he’s risked imprisonment during the lockdown in order to reopen production.
Officials in Alameda County, where the Fremont plant is based, said on May 13 that production at Tesla’s Fremont location could potentially resume this week — an exception to the county’s rules during the pandemic for “Minimum Business Operations,” which mandate that businesses scale down operations to protect employees.
…DIRECTING ALL BUSINESSES AND GOVERNMENTAL OPERATIONS TO FURTHER CEASE NON-ESSENTIAL OPERATIONS
Tesla is telling employees that its Fremont factory has received approval to resume operations this week.
The factory’s health and safety plan was approved by Alameda County’s interim health officer after authorities toured the facility last week, according to a letter from Laurie Shelby, Tesla’s vice president for environmental, health and safety.
“We have local support to get back to full production at the factory starting this upcoming week,” Shelby said in the letter obtained by The Chronicle. “We’re excited to continue to get back to work.”
Alameda’s current shelter-in-place orders do not allow factories, warehouses or manufacturing plants to operate, but an agreement with Tesla could resolve a publicized and contentious back-and-forth with Tesla CEO Elon Musk.
Earlier this month, Musk had threatened to move the company’s headquarters — which are in Palo Alto — out of California, and Tesla sued Alameda County. The Fremont plant employs about 11,000 people.
Alameda County officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But last week, health officials said they would allow Tesla to reopen this week if it meets certain safety requirements, after the company provided a plan for the Fremont site.
Silicon Valley’s foundational ethos is to “move fast and break things.” When Facebook first made that their motto, Mark Zuckerberg meant to capture his company’s, and Silicon Valley’s ethos of radical innovation — that if you weren’t moving fast enough to break things, you’d be left behind. But we’ve come to understand that for too many Silicon Valley firms, moving fast means breaking things at other people’s expense. And permission is not necessary.
The notoriously willful CEO Elon Musk is picking a fight over his company’s Fremont plant. Tesla and its workers will be the worse for it.
Elon—Let me just say that we know that you are a prisoner inside your own mind. That’s common or garden variety karma. We can’t help you get out from in there, but we can help you make contact with reality.
“Man stands in his own shadow, and wonders why it is dark.” – Zen koan
As Tesla’s Fremont factory ramps up production, some employees are being told by managers they could lose their unemployment benefits if they do not return. For those who fear coronavirus infection while working at the plant — which resumed operations this week in violation of local health orders — the message is seen as a choice between their health or their paycheck.
But new guidance from the state appears to contradict the warnings from Tesla management. The California Employment Development Department now says employees can refuse work that is “unsuitable” and continue to collect unemployment benefits.
The company letter tells employees to perform self-health checks before reporting to work, and to stay home if they are sick.
Tesla did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
The company had previously restarted operations, with Musk saying on Twitter last Monday that “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 told Tesla to stop.
President Trump tweeted last week that Tesla should be able to reopen its plant.
Gov. Gavin Newsom also weighed in last week, saying that conversations were ongoing between Tesla and the county, but “my belief and hope and expectation is as early as next week they will be able to resume.”
Local health authorities say Tesla can begin to restart factory operations Monday if proper safety plans are in place
- In a statement shared on Twitter on Tuesday, the Alameda County Public Health Department said it had reviewed Tesla’s COVID-19 prevention and control plan for its Fremont factory.
Alameda County Update on Tesla, May 12: We received Tesla’s site-specific Fremont COVID-19 Prevention and Control Plan yesterday as anticipated. A site-specific plan is a part of the Governor’s guidance for reopening manufacturing. pic.twitter.com/KsooDIKUYG
— Alameda County Public Health Department (@Dare2BWell) May 13, 2020
The reported injuries suggest a sometimes chaotic workspace: Safety regulators just assessed a $26,075 fine after a contract worker had his pelvic bone fractured after being hit by a forklift in the recycling area, according to Frank Polizzi, a spokesman for Cal/OSHA. In an August 2018 incident, a Tesla’s rear hatch door violently dropped onto the back of an employee as he was caulking the trunk, according to a report by the Center for Investigative Reporting. The worker injured in that accident later claimed he was denied adequate medical care by Tesla’s contracted medical clinic. Whistleblower reports from former workers who claimed the safety team underreported injuries threaten to strengthen a push for unionization at Fremont, which Musk opposes, and to increase legal and other expenses at a time when the company is struggling to lower costs to reach consistent profitability.
Tesla has decried claims that the company has covered up workplace injuries, saying they were fostered by an unnamed “extremist organization.” But investigators keep charging Tesla with violations. Fines range from $425 for failing to report injuries within a required time period to thousands of dollars for hazardous conditions that resulted in serious injuries. Tesla’s tent-like structure to house an additional production line for the Model 3, hastily erected last summer, resulted in six fines totaling $29,365.
Piddling. We must do something about that.
As ever, watch this spacetime.
Production note: Yes, it’s Wednesday. I have sleep issues that sometimes mean that I can’t schedule work. I just have to keep at it when I can.