Elon Musk vs California vs Covid-19: A timeline, from 'dumb' to defiance

Elon Musk is not your conventional CEO content with the conventional ways of doing things. No. That's just not his style, some say. And yet, his rather eccentric style has earned him admirers and critics in equal measure, often landing him and his company in major trouble. There is perhaps no denying that there are streaks of genius in how the 48-year-old conducts himself and his business practices and yet, he has the tendency to leave most people rather exasperated through his, for the lack of a better adjective, antics.

The many moods of Musk: File photo of Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, who has decided to reopen the company's facility in Fremont, California. (REUTERS)
The many moods of Musk: File photo of Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, who has decided to reopen the company's facility in Fremont, California.

Musk, the co-founder and CEO of the largest electric vehicle maker in the world, is now brazenly courting arrest after bickering and bawling over why Tesla's facility in California's Fremont cannot resume operations. The facility was one of the last to suspend work in the region after Covid-19-related guidelines brought normal life to a standstill. The war of words had begun well before that.

Here's taking a look at how Musk and authorities have clashed over the issue, over the past several weeks and counting:

March 7, 2020: As the world dug in to battle Covid-19, Musk - known to fire salvos from his Twitter account - took to the microblogging site to call out the reaction to the pandemic. "The coronavirus panic is dumb," he wrote.

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Musk was widely slammed for underplaying the reaction to the pandemic, especially because thousands had died from Covid-19 around the world even by then. (Read more here)

March 8: Not known to back down from a fight, or from his claims, Musk sought to explain what he meant when he called the panic dumb. "Virality of C19 is overstated due to conflating diagnosis date with contraction date; over-extrapolating exponential growth, which is never what happens in reality. Keep extrapolating; virus will exceed mass of known universe," he said. (Read more here)

FILE PHOTO: A view of Tesla Inc's U.S. vehicle factory in Fremont, California, U.S., (REUTERS)
FILE PHOTO: A view of Tesla Inc's U.S. vehicle factory in Fremont, California, U.S., (REUTERS)

March 13: Musk, in an email to Tesla employees, once again downplays the threat from Covid-19. US media reported that the CEO in the letter stated that he did not think the disease would make it to the top-100 health risks in the country and that more people died from car accidents than would die from Covid-19. He gets brutally trolled once again for comparing road accidents to a viral infection and for making a comparison without clear data-based estimates.

March 13-18: Calls to shut operations at Tesla's Fremont plant gather momentum in order to keep employees safe. Forbes reported that there are 15,000 full-time and contractual employees who report for work everyday, apart from several dozen robots.

March 18: A spokesman for the county sheriff's office in Alameda County where the factory is located at, says Tesla cannot operate as normal under the prevailing situation. A lockdown for three weeks in the San Francisco bay area comes into effect around the same time. (Read more here)

Musk argues not a single employee at the facility has tested positive for Covid-19.

March 19: Tesla agrees to bring down the number of employees inside the factory each day and to take active measures to help check the spread of Covid-19. "They told us they had gone from about 10,000 individual employees to about 2,500. It sounds to me like they very well could still be making cars. We are continuing to stress to them that they must move to minimum basic operations, if they are still making cars," the same spokesperson mentioned above was quoted as saying by Reuters. (Full report here)

While essential services remained open in California, many questioned if the functioning Tesla facility meant that making cars also qualifies as an essential service. (Full report here)

File photo of operations inside Tesla's Fremont facility. (AP)
File photo of operations inside Tesla's Fremont facility. (AP)

March 20: Tesla agrees to temporarily shut its facilities in California and in New York after facing ginormous levels of flak and criticism. The plant at Fremont officially suspended work from March 23.

April 26: After weeks of lull, reports emerge that Tesla is planning to call back some of its employees to the Fremont facility. The shelter-in order had been extended to May 3 by now and so, the reports re-ignited the debate on whether Tesla can be allowed to go for a recall. (Full report here)

April 28: Tesla pulls out of its reported plans to recall some of its employees to the assembly plant. (Read more here)

April 29: Musk takes to Twitter once again. He goes on to describe the lockdown as 'fascist' and calls for 'democracy to be restored.'

"To say that they cannot leave their house and they will be arrested if they do, this is fascist. This is not democratic, this is not freedom. Give people back their goddamn freedom!" he reportedly stated. (Full report here)

He also reportedly said that the lockdown was a 'serious risk' to businesses.

May 1: Musk takes to Twitter once again and this time, states that Tesla stock prices are too high. He further informs that he would be selling most of his possessions. While these may not have had a direct link with the Covid-19 related developments, Tesla's market value came down by as much as $14 billion. It is estimated that Musk's own stake in the company fell by $3 billion. (Full report here)

May 8: Musk, in a letter to employees, cites California Governor Gavin Newsom’s announcement that he would let manufacturers in parts of the state resume operations. Tesla reportedly gears up to resume work only for local authorities to once again pour water on the plans. "We have not said that it’s appropriate to move forward," Erica Pan, Alameda County’s health officer, said. (Full report here)

File photo of Elon Musk who has said that lockdowns are hurting businesses and are undemocratic. (AP)
File photo of Elon Musk who has said that lockdowns are hurting businesses and are undemocratic. (AP)

May 9: Musk declares war against California county and states that Tesla will sue it for blocking reopening plans. The CEO further states that Tesla would decide whether to keep producing cars in Fremont, California, based on how it’s treated going forward. (Full report here)

"Tesla is filing a lawsuit against Alameda County immediately. The unelected & ignorant 'Interim Health Officer' of Alameda is acting contrary to the Governor, the President, our Constitutional freedoms; just plain common sense!" Musk tweeted.

Fremont Mayor Lily Mei says Fremont is encouraging the county to "engage with local businesses to come up with acceptable guidelines for re-opening our local economy."

May 11: Musk, in an act of apparent defiance, announces unilaterally that the Fremont plant will 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," he tweets.

May 12: Musk reportedly speaks to Texas Governor Greg Abbott with speculations rising that the plant may move to the Lone Star state. (Read report here)

Donald Trump wades into the controversy and backs Musk's call. (Full report here)

Update: Alameda county officials budge from their position, say that the facility can open provided it adopts extra recommendations to battle the coronavirus in its safety plans. (Read report here)

May 13: Tesla has reportedly stated in an email to employees that those who don't report to work will be put on unpaid leave. (Read report here)

A California police official visited Tesla plant to assess whether the car maker was adhering to safety protocols agreed to with the county. (Read report here)

May 17: Tesla says it has the county's approval required to resume operations at the plant. (Full report here)

June 10: Washington Post reports that several employees at the facility have now tested positive and have been told to stay at home. (Complete report here)

July 16: Tesla has rushed in to reassure its workers that there is no big Covid-19 outbreak at its plants. This after a report citing internal company data informed that more than 130 employees have tested positive. (Full report here)

First Published Date: 12 May 2020, 09:51 AM IST
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