California Says Tesla Workers Are Now ‘Essential,’ and Can Ignore Stay-at-Home Order

An aerial view of the Tesla Fremont Factory on May 12, 2020 in Fremont, California.

An aerial view of the Tesla Fremont Factory on May 12, 2020 in Fremont, California.
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

Workers that make Teslas during the coronavirus pandemic are now apparently considered “essential” in the state of California, which has reported an average of 10,981 new covid-19 infections per day in the last week. This means that Tesla’s workers will not be affected by the state’s new limited stay-at-home order, which goes into effect Saturday.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the new order on Thursday “in light of an unprecedented, rapid rise in covid-19 cases across California,” the governor’s office said in a press release. The order bans most non-essential work, movement and gatherings between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. for counties in the “purple tier,” or those the state considers to be at the highest risk for disease transmission. In these counties, many non-essential indoor businesses are closed.

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This week, Newsom announced that 41 counties were now considered purple tier, which represent 94% of California’s population.

“The virus is spreading at a pace we haven’t seen since the start of this pandemic and the next several days and weeks will be critical to stop the surge. We are sounding the alarm,” Newsom said in a news statement. “It is crucial that we act to decrease transmission and slow hospitalizations before the death count surges.”

The order will remain in effect until Dec. 21.

While the stay-at-home order will apply to the majority of California’s residents, it will not apply to Tesla workers. CNBC reported on Friday that the California Department of Public Health classified Tesla employees as essential workers.

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“The Limited Stay at Home Order does not apply to these employees as they are deemed essential workers – manufacturing is listed as an essential workforce. You can find more here,” the department wrote in response to a CNBC inquiry, linking to a state list of essential workers by sector. “The Critical Manufacturing Sector identifies several industries to serve as the core of the sector including Transportation Equipment Manufacturing Products. While operating, this sector must follow industry guidance for manufacturing.”

Per the website, the list of essential workers was last updated on Sept. 22. The state department of public health told the outlet that it had issued guidance in July that aimed “to support a safer lower risk environment for workers.” Nonetheless, CNBC found that the guidance had not been updated with any new requirements or precautions for factory workers.

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That Tesla’s employees are suddenly considered “essential” workers is not exactly a surprise considering the ongoing fight between the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, and California officials, although it is an about-face.

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In March, Alameda County officials told Musk that producing Teslas was not an essential service and that his Fremont, California factory had to maintain minimum operations during a state shelter in place order, which prompted a full-blown soap opera starring the CEO. Musk briefly shut down his factory, then reopened it again in violation of county rules and dared officials to arrest him. Shortly afterwards, he announced Tesla was suing the county and claimed to be planning to move the company’s headquarters and future programs to Texas or Nevada. County officials didn’t arrest him, of course, and then came back and said they had “agreed” to let the factory reopen. Tesla dropped the lawsuit against the county.

Back to the present: Now, it looks like California officials don’t want to go on the Elon roller coaster again, even if we are in a worse place than we were in the spring. While it’s clear that maintaining the economy is important, it’s really hard to see how letting thousands of employees go to work in Tesla’s factory is essential. It’s also flabbergasting, though not at all surprising, that Musk would want his employees to continue to going to work. Then again, this is the same person who has just tested positive for covid-19, the disease he said would be gone by April, and then raised doubts about the accuracy of testing.

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Considering the state of the country, I hope the company is at least taking more precautions. We would ask, but there’s not exactly anyone around over there.

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