Entrepreneur Elon Musk is the last manufacturer of automobiles in the state of California, and motorists line up to buy his state-of-the-art electric Tesla vehicles. Musk’s Fremont, Calif., factory, which employs more than 10,000 people, has been shut down during the current pandemic. Musk announced a lawsuit against Alameda County for keeping his operation closed, and also threatened to move Tesla out of the state. On May 11, Musk reopened the factory, proclaiming “Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.”
On May 12, County officials reached an agreement with Telsa allowing its factory to reopen if various conditions were met. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, San Diego Democrat, promptly tweeted “F*ck Elon Musk,” which workers might have expected.
Gonzalez is the author of Assembly Bill 5, a frontal attack on independent contractors of all kinds, including freelance writers, that was distancing workers from their livelihood even before the coronavirus showed up. Last month, 150 distinguished economists told the governor in an open letter, “By prohibiting the use of independent contractor drivers, health care professionals, and workers in other critical areas, AB-5 is doing substantial, and avoidable, harm to the very people who now have the fewest resources and the worst alternatives available to them.” The letter urged Gov. Newsom to suspend AB-5, but at this writing he has taken no action.
In late January, workers held a protest against AB-5 at the state Capitol in Sacramento, which Gov. Newsom has now made off-limits to protesters. Protesters continue to show up, and Elon Musk’s recent action provides a lesson. If unemployed workers are going to get their lives back, some form of disobedience to lockdown orders will be required. Workers across the state and nation should keep an eye on Alameda County moving forward.