Tesla CEO Elon Musk has become one of America’s biggest return-to-work cheerleaders, but some of his employees aren’t as super stoked about going back to the factory.
After winning a public standoff with California’s Alameda County officials, Tesla (TSLA) will reopen its Fremont factory Monday so it can start making cars again. Musk essentially dared county officials to arrest him for defying stay-at-home orders. Alameda capitulated.
“I don’t feel Elon has those Tesla workers’ best interest in his heart. That’s my opinion,” said Branton Phillips, a material handler for Tesla’s production control in the Fremont factory.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Musk has repeatedly discounted the severity of the coronavirus pandemic, and likened stay-at-home orders, such as the one he fought in Alameda County, as “forcibly imprisoning people in their homes.”
But the coronavirus threat is real, particularly in well-ventilated, enclosed workspaces, such as factories, in which employees need to work closely with one another. Some of America’s worst outbreaks have taken place at meatpacking facilities, where workers are in close quarters.
To keep factory workers safe, Tesla said it will take employees’ temperatures, reduce the number of people working particular shifts, distribute protective equipment, regularly clean the factory and enforce social distancing.
Phillips said he’s concerned the company’s safety protocols will be insufficient.
“This is going to be a monumental undertaking,” he said. “And I’m sure they’re trying their best. It’s just not going to be completely possible to completely social distance. That is just going to be a fact.”
Phillips believes that many other employees share his concerns. However, Phillips plans to return to work Monday when the factory reopens. He said he needs to make a living.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the city where Tesla's facility is.