Workers at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, have been told their unemployment benefits may be suspended if they refuse to return to work, according to emails seen by the Guardian.
This news comes as Tesla CEO Elon Musk reopens the company's only US electric car plant in California, despite local orders against manufacturing.
As reported in the Guardian, in an email sent to employees announcing the factory would reopen, workers were told: “If you do not feel comfortable coming into work, you can stay home and will be on unpaid leave. Choosing not to report to work may eliminate or reduce your eligibility for unemployment depending on your state’s unemployment agency.”
According to KPIX 5, a Tesla production line employee who didn’t want to be identified said he was told to return to work on Sunday at 6 p.m. However, he wanted to follow the county’s stay at home orders 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.”
Another worker told the Guardian, “They’re trying intimidation and threatening tactics, saying if you don’t show up there’s no more unemployment. I will not be there, as well as a number of other people, because it’s still shelter-in-place. Until Alameda county health officer Dr Erica Pan says otherwise, I won’t be there.”
Tesla is allowed to open on minimum basic operations, according to the county, such as conducting infrastructure or construction work. Its potential open date for manufacturing is 18 May.
On Saturday, Elon Musk said that Tesla had filed a lawsuit against the county asking a court to remove the order that prevents the carmaker from resuming production.
Rather than wait for a ruling, Mr Musk announced on Twitter on Monday that the plant would reopen.
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
The Alameda County Public Health Department said on Monday it was "actively communicating" with Tesla about reopening plans and that it was taking the same approach it had taken with other businesses that had violated lockdown orders.
Pictures of the Tesla car park on Monday showed it mostly full. The plant has been closed to all but limited essential operations since 26 March.