[Stay on top of transportation news: Get TTNews in your inbox.]
Tesla, the Bay Area’s largest manufacturer, has greatly reduced the number of workers coming to its Fremont, Calif., assembly plant, though it’s not clear if the cutbacks put it in full compliance with health orders Alameda County and five other Bay Area counties imposed March 16 to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Of Tesla’s 10,000-person workforce at the Fremont factory, roughly three-quarters are not showing up to work after the company said workers could take paid time off if they were ill or had concerns over the coronavirus.
Sgt. Ray Kelly, a spokesman for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, said that he has been in talks with the company throughout the day and that the situation was not fully resolved.
“We still need to get to minimum basic operations for the car production,” Kelly said. The county order allows nonessential businesses to continue in limited operations to preserve their businesses.
Kelly said it was unclear if the company would continue to make cars at the factory while the order, issued by the county health department, was in effect.
The announcement came after the company appeared to defy a government order to shut down. Many employees were told March 18 to come to work at the electric-car factory.
An email sent to employees told some groups to come to the Fremont plant, while others were advised to work from home.
The company’s instructions, obtained by The Chronicle, came after the county sheriff announced Tuesday that the plant was not considered an essential business and must shut down.
Essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies may stay open under the shelter-in-place orders, which took effect at 12:01 a.m. March 17.
There is no broad exception for automakers or other manufacturers under the order. Businesses deemed nonessential can continue to perform the “minimum necessary activities to maintain the value of the business’s inventory, ensure security, process payroll and employee benefits, or for related functions,” as well as the “minimum necessary activities to facilitate employees of the business being able to continue to work remotely from their residences.”
GM, Ford and Fiat Chrysler are closing plants outside California, the Associated Press reported March 18.
In an email sent by Tesla’s North American human resources lead, Valerie Workman, employees in production, service, testing, delivery and some other groups must continue to report to work. Workman said if employees are feeling unwell, they should use their paid time off, and can use up to two weeks of paid time off that they have not yet accrued after what they have is depleted.
Workman said that employees can also take unpaid time off after drawing down their paid time off and that they would not face disciplinary action for doing so.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
It was unclear how the county’s shutdown order would be enforced. Kelly said other agencies including the Fremont Police Department and the county health department would be responsible for enforcement.
The Alameda County Public Health Department, which wrote the order, is fielding questions from businesses but will not be enforcing it, according to spokeswoman Neetu Balram.
The county sheriff’s department said that the Fremont Police Department is responsible for enforcing the order. The Fremont police did not respond to messages requesting comment.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk told employees in a March 16 email that they should not come to work if they feel even slightly ill. He said in the email he would be coming to work and downplayed the danger of the virus, saying the panic was overblown. He expressed doubt that it will infect a significant number of people in the U.S.
“If we over-allocate medical resources to corona(virus), it will come at expense of treating other illnesses,” Musk wrote on Twitter on March 16.
That said, danger of panic still far exceeds danger of corona imo. If we over-allocate medical resources to corona, it will come at expense of treating other illnesses. Track graph at bottom of this page: https://t.co/7nWKjiZyFn— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 17, 2020
Want more news? Listen to today's daily briefing: