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Tesla Sues California County Over Factory Closure, Starts Production Without Approval

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  • Tesla is suing Alameda County in an effort to resume operation at its Fremont factory, claiming that it is considered “national critical infrastructure” and should be able to restart under the governor’s guidance for reopening some businesses with safety modifications.  
  • Musk even threatened to move Tesla’s headquarters out of California, noting that it is the last major carmaker in the state as well as one of it’s largest manufacturing employers.
  • Though a move would be costly and difficult, some believe the tensions could further push Musk to look elsewhere for the manufacturing of other projects.  
  • Fremont’s Mayor urged the county to work with businesses trying to reopen after expressing concern about the potential implications for the regional economy. The county says it is communicating with Tesla and hopes to reach an agreement soon, but Tesla has already started ordering employees back to work.  

Musk Threatens To Move Tesla HQ 

Tesla has filed a lawsuit against Alameda County in Califonia, arguing that its Fremont factory should be allowed to operate during the coronavirus pandemic under the governor’s new guidance for reopening some businesses. 

The factory has been shut since March 23, after the county called for its closure as part of social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders, but the company has been pushing to resume production.

Then on Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he is allowing for sectors like retail, manufacturing, and logistics to reopen with “modifications that reduce risk,” however, he stressed that local officials still have the authority to speed up or slow down reopening at the county level. 

On Saturday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk expressed frustration about local resistance Tesla has faced.

“Tesla is filing a lawsuit against Alameda County immediately,” Musk announced in a tweet. “The unelected & ignorant “Interim Health Officer” of Alameda is acting contrary to the Governor, the President, our Constitutional freedoms & just plain common sense!”

Musk even threatened to move Tesla’s headquarters to Texas or Nevada as a result of the shutdown.

Musk’s frustration seems to have been building because late last month, he ranted about stay-home orders in the company’s April 29 first-quarter earnings call. In it, he called the restrictions fascist and a violation of people’s constitutional rights. 

Tesla Releases Blogpost Explaining Lawsuit and Restart Plans

The same day Musk tweeted his threat, Tesla released a blog post about how it will get it’s employees back to work safely. In the post, the company noted that it is the last major carmaker in the state as well as one of it’s largest manufacturing employers with more than 10,000 workers at its Fremont factory and 20,000 statewide. 

Tesla again argued that its Fremont plant should be allowed to reopen under Newsom’s recent guidelines, but it also said it should have always had permission to continue production because the state and federal government classifies vehicle manufacturing as “national critical infrastructure.”

It company even noted that, “Alameda county, where our factory resides, and Santa Clara County next door, have stated in their return to work order FAQs that the manufacturing of distributed energy resources (which is defined in state law to include electric vehicles, solar and battery storage) is permitted to resume.”

Along with these points, the company explained that it has worked hard on a “robust” restart plan, saying, “It was modeled after the comprehensive return to work plan we established at our Shanghai Gigafactory, which has seen smooth and healthy operations for the last three months.”

“Contrary to the Governor’s recent guidance and support from the City of Fremont, Alameda County is insisting we should not resume operations,” Tesla’s leadership added in the post. 

“This is not for lack of trying or transparency since we have met with and collaborated on our restart plans with the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency.” 

The company claims that the County Public Health Officer making decisions about reopening has not returned its calls and emails listing out detailed restart plans, factory layouts, and more. 

“We will continue to put people back to work in a safe and responsible manner. However, the County’s position left us no choice but to take legal action to ensure that Tesla and its employees can get back to work,” it said before noting that it is asking the court to render the shutdown order invalid.

Alameda County Responds  

Fremont Mayor Lili Mei responded to Tesla Saturday afternoon saying, “As the local shelter-in-place order continues without provisions for major manufacturing activity, such as Tesla, to resume, I am growing concerned about the potential implications for our regional economy.”

“We know many essential businesses have proven they can successfully operate using strict safety and social distancing practices. I strongly believe these same practices could be possible for other manufacturing businesses, especially those that are so critical to our employment base.”

She then encouraged the county to work with local businesses to reopen with acceptable guidelines.

Shortly after, Alameda County’s Health Department released a statement saying it has been working with Tesla to develop a safety plan allowing the Fremont plant to reopen while protecting workers. 

“This has been a collaborative, good faith effort to develop and implement a safety plan that allows for reopening while protecting the health and well-being of the thousands of employees who travel to and from work at Tesla’s factory,” the county said.

“We look forward to coming to an agreement on an appropriate safety plan very soon.″

However, it stressed that “It is our collective responsibility to move through the phases of reopening and loosening the restrictions of the shelter-in-place order in the safest way possible, guided by data and science.”

Scott Haggerty, supervisor for the Fremont district of Alameda County, told the New York Times on Saturday, “We were working on a lot of policies and procedures to help operate that plant and quite frankly, I think Tesla did a pretty good job, and that’s why I had it to the point where on May 18, Tesla would have opened.”

“I know Elon knew that. But he wanted it this week,” he added.

Criticism and Support 

It seems like Tesla could be getting the green light it was hoping for, though it’s unclear when. However, Tesla apparently isn’t waiting for approval. According to a report from The Verge, some employees were called back to work at the facility over the weekend and others are scheduled to report to work later this week.

Then on Monday, Musk acknowledged that he was restarting against orders.

Still, some lawmakers don’t seem to happy about Tesla’s attempts to reopen. California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) added fuel to the flames after Musk’s threat when she tweeted, “F—- Elon Musk.”

“California has highly subsidized a company that has always disregarded worker safety & well-being, has engaged in union busting & bullies public servants,” wrote Gonzalez in a follow-up tweet on Sunday. “I probably could’ve expressed my frustration in a less aggressive way. Of course, no one would’ve cared if I tweeted that.”

On the other hand, Tesla has seen some support from those like U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Mnuchin backed Musk on Monday, telling CNBC that California should help Tesla reopen its plant.

“I agree with Elon Musk. He’s one of the biggest employers and manufacturers in California, and California should prioritize doing whatever they need to do to solve those health issues so that he can open quickly and safely,” Mnuchin said on “Squawk on the Street.”

“They’re going to find that if he’s threatened he’s going to move his production to a different state,” Mnuchin added.

As some have pointed out, moving Tesla’s headquarters, especially during the pandemic, would be a difficult and costly move for the company.

“Moving away from Fremont would take at least 12 to 18 months and could add risk to the manufacturing and logistics process in the meantime,” Wedbush Securities analyst Daniel Ives wrote in a note to investors.

However, Musk has previously hinted that he’s eyeing other places to build his Cybertrucks and expand production of his Model Y crossover, so some believe Musk’s frustrations with the state and county could further push him to launch more operations elsewhere.

The lawsuits come as competing automakers are gradually starting to reopen factories in the U.S. Toyota will restart production on Monday, while General Motors, Ford, and Fiat Chrysler all plan to restart their plants gradually on May 18. 

See what others are saying: (Huffington Post) (Axios) (CNBC) 

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Child Safety Advocates Urge Facebook To Scrap Plans for Instagram Kids

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  • Nearly 100 child safety experts and international organizations sent a letter to Facebook Thursday criticizing its plans to develop an Instagram app for children under 13.
  • Facebook claims the app will offer parental controls and is meant to create a safer space for kids, who are often lying about their age to access the normal version of Instagram.
  • Still, critics point out that children already on Instagram are unlikely to switch to a kids version. Many also cited concerns about screen time, mental health, and privacy, arguing that younger children are not ready for such a platform.
  • U.S. Lawmakers expressed similar concerns earlier this month, saying, “Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation.”

Instagram for Kids

An international group of 35 organizations and 64 experts, coordinated by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, released a letter Thursday urging Facebook to abandon its plans to release an Instagram app for kids under 13-years old.

Plans for Instagram Kids have been public for about a month after Buzzfeed News obtained emails about the app in mid-March. Since then, there have been widespread concerns about how such an app could affect children.

Thursday’s letter argues that a version of Instagram targeting under-13-year-olds raises concerns about privacy, screen time, mental health, self-esteem, and commercial pressure. Stephanie Otway, a spokesperson for Facebook, said the company understands the concerns presented by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

“We agree that any experience we develop must prioritize their safety and privacy, and we will consult with experts in child development, child safety and mental health, and privacy advocates to inform it,” she said.

“The reality is that kids are online. They want to connect with their family and friends, have fun and learn, and we want to help them do that in a way that is safe and age-appropriate. We also want to find practical solutions to the ongoing industry problem of kids lying about their age to access apps,” Otway added, noting the reality of how many children interact with age-gated apps.

Unlikely To Stop Children From Joining Regular Instagram

The idea that children would just switch to Instagram Kids received pushback from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. In fact, the group’s executive director, Josh Golin, pointed out that most kids who are currently on Instagram are between 10 and 12-years-old, and they likely wouldn’t migrate over to Instagram Kids because it will be perceived as “babyish and not cool enough.”

The children this will appeal to will be much younger kids,” Golin explained. “So they are not swapping out an unsafe version of Instagram for a safer version. They are creating new demand from a new audience that’s not ready for any type of Instagram product.”

It’s unknown exactly how the app would work, but it would feature content similar to what is allowed in other age-appropriate apps, such as YouTube Kids. One of the few details given out so far is that Instagram Kids will be ad-free and feature parental control options.

Concerns over Instagram Kids has also come from lawmakers. On April 5th Senators Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), alongside Representatives Kathy Castor (D-Fla.) and Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg expressing concerns that “children are a uniquely vulnerable population online, and images of kids are highly sensitive data.”

“Facebook has an obligation to ensure that any new platforms or projects targeting children put those users’ welfare first, and we are skeptical that Facebook is prepared to fulfill this obligation.”

See what others are saying: (TechCrunch) (BBC) (NBC News)

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Retail Sales Jump Amid Stimulus Spending, Unemployment Claims Plunge To Pandemic Low

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  • The Commerce Department released a report Thursday recording a 9.8% spike in retail sales for the month of March.
  • That surge was largely driven by stimulus check spending, with restaurant, sporting goods, clothing and accessory, and auto sales all being among the top-performing sectors in retail for the month. 
  • Coupled with that news, the Labor Department reported that 576,000 unemployment claims were filed last month — a pandemic low. 
  • That figure is still significantly higher than the roughly 200,000 weekly unemployment claims filed before the pandemic. 

Retail Sales Spike

U.S. retail sales for the month of March jumped 9.8% from February, according to a Thursday morning report from the Commerce Department.

That spike is largely thanks to the most recent round of stimulus checks from Congress.

March was the best month of retail spending since May of last year, which at the time saw an 18.3% gain following the first wave of stimulus checks.  

Sales in the bar and restaurant industry rose 13.4%, making them among the retail sectors that saw the biggest spikes last month. That’s largely a result of relaxed lockdowns stemming from the country’s current pace of around three million vaccinations a day. Meanwhile, sporting goods spending rose 23.5%, clothing and accessory sales rose 18.3%, and motor vehicle parts and dealer sales rose 15.1%.

“Spending will almost certainly drop back in April as some of the stimulus boost wears off,” wrote Michael Pearce, senior U.S. economist at Capital Economics, “but with the vaccination rollout proceeding at a rapid pace and households finances in strong shape, we expect overall consumption growth to continue rebounding rapidly in the second quarter too.” 

Unemployment Hits Pandemic Low

The retail sales data came around the same time that the Labor Department released this past week’s unemployment figures, which dropped to a new pandemic low of 576,000 claims. 

That’s a massive difference from almost exactly a year ago when 6 million people filed for unemployment in a single week. It’s also a significant decline from the 769,000 people that filed jobless claims last week, especially since some analysts had predicted there would be around 700,000 jobs lost with this week’s report.

That said, unemployment claims are still much higher than the around 200,000 a week that were being filed prior to pandemic closures.

“You’re still not popping champagne corks,”  Diane Swonk, chief economist at the accounting firm Grant Thornton, said according to The New York Times. “I will breathe again — and breathe easy again — once we get these number[s] back down in the 200,000 range.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNBC) (Fox Business)

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Hundreds of Businesses and Celebrities Join Growing Fight Against Restrictive Voting Efforts

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  • In a letter published Wednesday, hundreds of major companies, law firms, corporate leaders, and celebrities banded together “to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.”
  • The list of signatories includes companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon; celebrities such as Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, and Samuel L. Jackson; and billionaire investor Warren Buffet, among others.
  • Though the letter does not address any specific voting legislation, it was organized by Kenneth Chenault and Kenneth Fraizer, who also organized a letter late last month in which more than 70 Black executives urged companies to take a stand against GOP-led restrictive voting proposals being floated in dozens of states. 

Hundreds of Companies Oppose Restrictive Voting 

The number of companies speaking out against a series of GOP-led voting proposals is growing, despite calls from notable Republicans for boycotts against companies doing so.

In a letter published Wednesday morning, hundreds of major companies, law firms, corporate leaders, and celebrities united behind what journalist David Gelles described as “the biggest show of solidarity to date.”

The letter itself doesn’t specifically call out Republican voting efforts. Instead, the statement reads, “We stand for democracy,” with the signatories also vowing “to oppose any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot.”

Still, the letter comes in the middle of an ongoing battle between corporate America and the GOP, which is backing dozens of state proposals that many have condemned as restrictive and discriminatory against poorer individuals and people of color.

The slew of companies that signed Wednesday’s letter includes Target, Netflix, Bank of America, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, Mastercard, American Airlines, United Airlines, and others. 

The letter also boasts star-power from celebrities like Demi Lovato, Katy Perry, Gwyneth Paltrow, George Clooney, and Samuel L. Jackson, among others. Notably, billionaire investor Warren Buffet also added his name to this list.

Companies Debate Taking Action Against States That Pass Restrictive Voting Measures

Wednesday’s letter was organized by Kenneth Chenault and Kenneth Frazier, who late last month also organized a similar letter from a group of more than 70 Black executives. That message, which urged companies to speak out against the GOP-led proposals, has largely been credited with helping to catalyze the fight between the GOP and corporate America. 

This past weekend, the two also partially led a Zoom call that featured over 120 CEOs and business leaders. 

During that call, participating executives considered a number of possible steps, including pulling donations to politicians who support restrictive voting measures, refusing to move business or jobs to states that pass such laws, and even relocating events; however, no hard plans were actually set into motion.

Still, some groups have already gone forward with various forms of protests against such laws. Last week, Major League Baseball announced it was moving its All-Star game out of Georgia, which recently passed a series of restrictive voting measures. On Monday, actor Will Smith and director Antoine Fuqua also announced that they no longer plan to film their runaway slave thriller “Emancipation” in the state.

Some Companies Didn’t Speak Out in Wednesday’s Letter

Both federal and state Republicans have been very vocal as businesses have continued to lob criticism at their proposed laws. 

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell warned businesses to “stay out of politics,” though he later walked back that statement.

Two weeks ago, the Georgia state House voted to strip Delta Airlines of its tax breaks after the company spoke out against the state’s new voting laws. In fact, that reprimand might explain why it and other Georgia-based companies like Coca-Cola were absent from Wednesday’s letter. 

According to The New York Times, people involved in the process of organizing this letter said those companies feared more blowback and also did not feel the need to speak up again.

Connected to that, The Times reported that some companies originally tried to have the line of “oppos[ing] any discriminatory legislation” removed, but they later signed anyway after Chenault and Frazier insisted the line was crucial.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Hollywood Reporter)

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