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CEO Elon Musk informed employees in an overnight email that some work would resume at the company’s shuttered Fremont factory Friday afternoon, according to internal emails obtained by .

The Chronicle previously reported a small group of workers were at the plant earlier this week preparing for a reopening in a possible violation of state and county shelter-in-place restrictions.

Production lines did not appear to be running yet and will likely start up next week, according to a Tesla employee familiar with the changes who did not want to be identified for fear of retaliation.

Work at the plant officially stopped in late March after the Palo Alto company spent nearly a week defying Alameda County’s shelter-in-place orders, which were implemented March 17. Working conditions at the plant deteriorated before the shutdown as employees stayed home for fear of the virus and some staffers were shifted between departments to assemble electric cars, performing manual labor in tight quarters while not everyone wore masks.

Musk sent the email at midnight Thursday informing employees of the company’s decision to reopen, which he said was based on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement Thursday lifting restrictions on and other activities — even though preparation started at the plant before changes announced by the governor.

Musk said in the email that he planned to work on the himself, but workers who aren’t comfortable returning do not have to.

The company’s previously railed against business restrictions put in place to fight the coronavirus, calling the stay-at-home orders “fascist” during a recent call with investors and demanding the U.S. economy reopen in a since-deleted Twitter post.


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The company has apparently discussed its plan to reopen with Alameda County officials, according to another email, which was sent by Tesla human resources executive Valerie Capers Workman.

Those discussions did not satisfy local officials. Alameda County said in a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times that Tesla “must not reopen” and that the company did not meet the criteria to resume manufacturing.

Workman said the company is instituting mandatory safety protocols, presumably to guard against the virus, and almost a third of normal staff would be back to work. Employees who do not follow these measures will be sent home on unpaid leave, according to the email.

Sick employees will be allowed to stay home using paid time off or unpaid leave without being penalized, Workman said.

The Chronicle previously reported that increased safety measures had been put in place at the plant in an attempt to prevent the roughly 10,000 workers there from infecting each other with the coronavirus.

Safety improvements include full body thermal scanners to check for elevated temperatures at entrances, according to the source, who said the scanners have also been installed near external parking lots where company buses shuttle workers to and from the plant from far-flung parts of the Bay Area.

Employees are also given masks at entrances that they will be allowed to wear for no more than two shifts, and hand sanitizer stations now dot the facility more than before.

Social distancing is also marked on the floor of production lines to ensure workers stay far enough apart to avoid transmitting the virus. Fewer workers will also be on the lines, which will move more slowly. That will allow for more social distancing and require more time for one worker to perform two tasks previously done by multiple workers.

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Some workers who must be closer to one another at some points will also be issued plastic face shields, and common tools will be cleaned before each shift with an , the source said.

Front and side partitions for individual seats in the large break rooms have also been installed, according to the Tesla employee. Breaks will also be staggered by time, and common food items like cereal dispensers are gone, the source said. Buffet-style food options will be replaced with packaged food for sanitary purposes.

The company’s factories in New York and Nevada will also begin a return to production, Workman’s email said.

Bloomberg reported on Thursday that the company plans to temporarily shutter its electric -manufacturing plant outside of .

Inside the newsroom

Anonymous sources: The Chronicle strives to attribute all information we report to credible, reliable, identifiable sources. Presenting information from an anonymous source occurs extremely rarely, and only when that information is considered crucial and all other on-the-record options have been exhausted. In such cases, The Chronicle has complete knowledge of the unnamed person’s identity and of how that person is in position to know the information. The Chronicle’s detailed policy governing the use of such sources, including the use of pseudonyms, is available on sfchronicle.com.

Chase DiFeliciantonio is a staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @ChaseDiFelice

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