Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk on Monday stated production was restarting at the automaker’s only U.S. vehicle factory, in California, defying an order to stay closed and adding that if anyone had to be arrested it should be him.
The move comes as states and cities around the country find ways to safely resume their economies after the coronavirus outbreak shuttered businesses and left millions of Americans out of work.
Musk over the weekend threatened to exist from California for Texas or Nevada over the factory’s closure. His move has highlighted the competition for jobs and ignited a rush to attract the billionaire executive by states that have resumed their economies more quickly.
In an email on Monday, the automaker referred to an order on Thursday by California’s governor permitting manufacturers to restart operations and said that as of Sunday, previously furloughed workers were back to their regular employment status.
“We’re happy to get back to work and have implemented very detailed plans to help you keep safe as you return,” the email read. It was titled as “Furlough Has Ended And We Are Back To Work in Production!”
Musk in a tweet noted that the production was restarting on Monday, adding that he would join employees on the assembly line. “If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me,” he wrote.
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.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 11, 2020
Health authorities in Alameda County, where the Fremont factory is based, said on Monday that they were aware that Tesla had started beyond the so-called minimum basic operations permitted during lockdown, and had notified the company it could not operate without a county-approved plan.
In a statement, authorities said they expected a proposal from the automaker later on Monday and “hope Tesla will likewise comply without further enforcement measures”. The statement did not mention consequences and said authorities would not comment further.
The county’s lockdown order says violations can be punished by fines or imprisonment or both.
A spokeswoman for the Fremont Police Department on Monday stated her office was imposing the lockdown order at the direction of the health department and had been advised that the county is collaborating with Tesla directly.
Separately on Monday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated California should do whatever is required to help the electric automaker resume its only vehicle factory in the country if it wants to keep the company to operate in its state.
California Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday stated he talked to Musk several days ago and that the Tesla founder’s concerns helped prompt the state to start its phased resumption of manufacturing last week.
“I have not only known that company but I have known its founder for many, many years,” Newsom stated in his daily coronavirus press briefing. “I have great reverence for their technology, for their innovative spirit, for their leadership.”
Tesla, which also has a vehicle plant located in Shanghai and is constructing another in Berlin, on Saturday sued the county, alleging it had breached California’s constitution by defying Newsom’s orders permitting manufacturers to reopen.