(CN) — A workers’ rights group took to the streets in downtown Oakland on Thursday, accusing automaker Tesla of covering up a coronavirus outbreak at its assembly plant in nearby Fremont.
A group calling itself Workers United Against Covid-19 assembled in front of the Alameda County Public Health Department demanding that county health officer Erica Pan investigate whether Tesla is concealing large numbers of coronavirus cases at the plant.
“This is a dire health and safety emergency because the state is not taking care of workers at Tesla,” said group member Steve Zeltzer.
Carlos Gabriel said he knows of 30 people who have contracted the novel coronavirus at the Fremont plant, but said because Tesla performs its own contact tracing, the determination that all 30 people caught the disease outside of the confines of the factory doesn’t hold water.
“There is a definite trust issue there,” Gabriel said.
Neither Tesla nor the Alameda County Health Department responded to requests for comment about the nature of the contract tracing or number of infections at the Fremont plant.
Both Gabriel and Zeltzer said they believe Pan caved to Musk’s demands to allow the plant to reopen in May, when the CEO of the world’s most valuable automaker threatened to move his plant to Texas or other states with more relaxed social distancing restrictions.
Musk has long been a skeptic of the coronavirus pandemic in terms of its infectiousness and its virulence.
“Coronavirus panic is dumb,” he tweeted in April during the initial stages of the outbreak in the United States.
Recently, Musk questioned whether a rising count in confirmed cases in California and the United States could be tied to a high rate of false positives from certain coronavirus tests.
Gabriel said this was all part of a campaign to put profits over the safety of his workers.
“He was calling Pan a fascist and ignorant and threatening to sue,” said Gabriel.
Zeltzer said the state of California also failed to do its job as the California Department of Industrial Relations is experiencing staffing shortages during the pandemic.
“The agency is in a state of collapse,” Zeltzer said.
The state department also did not return a request for comment as of press time.
Alameda County has reported 6,177 confirmed cases as of Thursday afternoon, with 136 deaths. Alameda County and other San Francisco Bay Area counties in general have experienced a spike in cases since California reopened, though the spike has not been as pronounced as in Southern California, particularly Los Angeles County, or the Central Valley.
As a point of comparison, Los Angeles County has approximately 106,000 confirmed cases and about 3,400 deaths. Los Angeles County is the most populous of California’s 58 counties.
Tesla is the world’s largest electric vehicle manufacturer and recently became the most valuable automotive company in the world after its stock rose sharply over the past week.
At close of markets Friday, Tesla stock was worth $1,208.66 per share.
The company also reported it delivered 90,650 vehicles in the second quarter despite the overarching economic slowdown, shattering Wall Street expectations. Musk taunted the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and thanked Tesla customers and shareholders after the news broke Thursday afternoon.
While Tesla is one of the great business success stories of the last few years, Musk has been dogged by controversy. He was sued after he called a man who rescued young boys trapped in a cave in Thailand a pedophile, though a jury cleared Musk after deliberating less than an hour.
He also landed in trouble with the SEC after he tweeted plans to take the company private after the stock reached a certain price point. He was disciplined by being removed from Tesla’s board to provide further internal oversight. He retained his position as CEO.
Musk also has a mixed record on labor. A judge ruled this past September that Musk broke labor laws when he criticized Tesla employees who were considering forming a labor union.
He received a slap on the wrist and was ordered to rehire a fired employee and not interfere in future efforts of employees to unionize.