FREMONT, Calif. — Tesla's factory in California appeared to be operating normally on Wednesday despite an order by San Francisco Bay Area officials to comply with a three-week lockdown to rein in the spread of coronavirus.
Thousands of cars were visible in the factory's employee parking lot in Fremont, Calif., and employees were going to work, Reuters witnesses said. Several 18-wheeler container trucks were seen pulling into the factory grounds, they said.
There were also at least two food trucks parked in front of the factory building and workers were seen walking back from a restaurant across the street.
Honda has shut down its U.S. manufacturing, more out of an anticipated drop in demand, and Detroit automakers along with the UAW have agreed to curb operations to help contain the spread of the disease.
Alameda County, where the factory is based, is one of six covered by an order from regional officials to "shelter in place," which limits activity, travel and business functions to only the most essential, and advises people to stay home except for the most crucial reasons.
The county sheriff's office on Tuesday afternoon said Tesla is not considered an essential business under that order and cannot continue to operate its factory normally.
Tesla can only maintain minimum basic operations under the order, the sheriff's office said. Under the county's order, those include maintaining the value of inventory, ensuring security and processing payroll and employee benefits.
After the Alameda County decision that Tesla should quit factory work, the company sent an email to employees in which it said that essential activities, including production, would continue, according to a person who saw the memo.
Tesla on Wednesday did not respond to a request for comment. Here is the text of the email to employees, as obtained by CNBC:
We still do not have a final word from the City, County, State and, Federal Government on the status of our operations. We have had conflicting guidance from different levels of government.
Until then, we are operating with Essential Employees only while all others are working from home, and working to incorporate all CDC guidelines into our operations.
There are no changes in your normal assignment and you should continue to report to work if you are in an essential function: production, service, deliveries, testing and supporting groups as discussed with your manager. If you are not assigned to support an essential function, your manager might suggest a temporary relocation to support essential functions, or you may need to be on call.
If you are not feeling well, please stay at home and use PTO. If your PTO balance is low, you can borrow up to 80 hours (2 weeks), after you exhaust your PTO balance. Please inform your manager and follow the normal procedures for sick time.
If you cannot or are reluctant to come to work, you can also use your PTO. Please inform your manager. You can also take unpaid time off, after your exhaust your PTO. You will not be penalized for your decision. There will be no disciplinary action for attendance based on health or impossibility to come to work.
We will communicate with everyone again tonight and we appreciate all you are doing to keep safe social distance.
Valerie Capers Workman | North America HR + AU/NZ/JP/KR
Registered In House Counsel
[address and contact information redacted]
Tesla's Fremont facility, which is the company's sole U.S. car-producing factory, employs more than 10,000 workers and had an annualized production of slightly more than 415,000 units by the fourth quarter.
A spokesman for the sheriff's office on Wednesday said rumors on social media that it had sent officers to Tesla's Fremont plant were not true. He referred further questions to the local police department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The offices of Fremont mayor's and the Alameda County district where the factory is located did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
The California governor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the situation.
Under Alameda County's lockdown order, which took effect on Tuesday, violating or failing to comply are misdemeanors punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the county sheriff's office declined to provide details on any enforcement measures the sheriff's office would take if Tesla defied the order.
Prior to the sheriff's office's decision, Tesla told employees in an e-mail that the company and its suppliers would continue operations supporting the manufacturing and delivery of vehicles, a person who had see the e-mail told Reuters.