- Tesla has been accused of firing two workers who spoke out about conditions at its Fremont, California plant.
- However, the company said employees were fired because they didn’t show up to work, despite being told they didn’t need to if they had concerns over COVID-19.
- Conditions reported at the plant, and within the country, show that COVID-19 is still a real threat as cases continue to rise.
Tesla in the Era of COVID-19
Tesla is under scrutiny for firing two employees last week who allegedly failed to show up to work. However, those employees note that they were told they could stay home over COVID-19 concerns, and they believe they were really fired for speaking out about conditions at Tesla’s Fremont plant.
Since the June 16 firings, the company seems to have back-peddled on its decision, but concerns linger over how the company is dealing with COVID-19 at their plants in Fremont, California.
Back in March, Alameda County, the area where Tesla’s auto plants are located, issued some of the nation’s first stay-at-home orders. Elon Musk tried to keep the plant open, but in an email to employees, he explained that if workers felt uncomfortable or sick, they could stay home on unpaid leave.
Eventually, Alameda County cracked down and forced Tesla to limit its operations to just the ‘minimum basic operations.”
In early May, Musk decided to reopen the Tesla factory in direct defiance of the county’s orders. For a second time, he sent an email to employees stating “[if] you feel uncomfortable coming back to work at this time, please do not feel obligated to do so.”
Carlos Gabriel and Jessica Naro
The two employees who were fired are Carlos Gabriel and Jessica Naro.
They were officially released via email over a “Failure to Return to Work.” The emails, which have been viewed by outlets like The Washington Post, said that Tesla’s Human Resources had allegedly been trying to get in touch with the employees and couldn’t reach them.
However, both Gabriel and Naro were able to provide proof to Human Resources that they had continued communication with their managers for months. Gabriel even provided an email sent in May from Vince Woodard, Tesla’s acting Human Resource Director.
“Carlos, there is no need to feel that you are going to lose your job,” the email said. “If at this time you do not feel comfortable returning to work, you can stay home without penalty and take the time unpaid.“
Both employees were given the opportunity to dispute their termination and both took up that offer. Naro was eventually offered her position back, but in both the initial termination email and later talks, Tesla pushed to know when she would be coming back to work. This is how she described the exchange to The Mercury News:
“I actually spoke with a [supervisor] … and he said, ‘Do you have any idea when you’re gonna be returning back?’ and I said, ‘When covid-19 is over.’ ”
As for Gabriel, he hasn’t received his job back because Tesla’s Human Resources refused to allow him to record the call or move the conversation over to email. He made it clear to outlets that Tesla has lost his trust and that he couldn’t go back because of that, along with alleged unsafe conditions at the plant.
Their public and vocal concerns over those conditions are the reason Gabriel and Naro think they were actually fired. They spoke out about conditions at the Tesla Fremont plant at a news conference on June 15t, the day before their termination at Tesla. Although currently there is no other information at this time to corroborate those accusations.
Conditions in Fremont
Currently, conditions within the Tesla plants are a concern for many employees. Gabriel described the situation to The Mercury News as, “Some people don’t really care about wearing PPE. PPE is thrown on the ground after being used. People are afraid to go to the bathroom. People are afraid to eat.”
The Washington Post has reached out to about a half-dozen employees who corroborated their claims. Those workers, like Gabriel, claim that people don’t care to use personal protective equipment (PPE) at all, or use it improperly. According to The Washington Post, one employee named Branton Phillips said that the use of PPE was contentious at the factory, like in many parts of the country describing it like “you’re reflecting what’s outside in the world inside the plant.”
There are also alleged sanitation issues. Many employees claim that there is lax enforcement over actually cleaning equipment after it is used. Cleaning is usually done after lunch, but in some spots of the factory, multiple employees are constantly touching the same areas or items without consistent sanitation.
Additionally, social distancing isn’t being properly enforced. In some parts of the factory, it’s understandably much more difficult to social distance, such as on the vehicle assembly line. Yet in instances where social distancing should be possible, it still doesn’t happen. Employees claim that during in-person team meetings, people are usually three feet apart, rather than the recommended six.
Tesla is also accused of not being transparent over potential cases of COVID-19 in their plants. Employees claim they have no idea how many cases of COVID-19 have actually been at the Fremont plants. Sometimes coworkers will disappear for two weeks, and their colleagues are only told they’re “sick.” Managers counter and say they can’t disclose medical information.
But even rough numbers of cases aren’t told to workers. Employees at Tesla’s seat plant, which is down the road from the main facility, were comparatively in-the-know about COVID-19 at Tesla’s factories. They were told that there were two cases of COVID-19 leading to at least three exposures.
Alameda and California Concerns
Criticisms over a lack of transparency also applies to Alameda County, which hasn’t released information about any cases of the coronavirus at Tesla.
However, on June 23, a spokesperson for the county said, “Tesla is reporting their cases among employees directly to [the Alameda County Public Health Department] as required by their Site Specific Plan, which is also a requirement for all businesses that are reopening.”
She added the county was working on getting more information out, given the public interest in the situation. Yet, Tesla is just the tip of the iceberg for Alameda County, which is among the hardest-hit counties in California.
This week, it hit over 5,000 cases, and in general, California has seen a massive spike in cases. On June 23, there were nearly 7,150 new cases of the coronavirus within the state, and for weeks now the number of new cases has been rising.
In response, Governor Gavin Newsom declared last week that face masks are required in public spaces. That order is likely to face backlash in rural parts of the state, as well as highly populated areas like Orange County and the Inland Empire; both of which have populations that pushed back against county-imposed mask requirements.
Despite this, the state has reopened in a lot of ways. Currently, nearly every business is allowed to be open, aside from businesses like night clubs and bars, among a few others. However, businesses that remain open are allowed to with some caveats like social distancing.
That may soon change, in a press conference held on June 22, Newsom said that he was prepared to “revert back” to more strict coronavirus restrictions. The governor also added that while the state is capable of reverting restrictions, Californians could avoid it by “…being a little bit more thoughtful about how we go about our day-to-day lives.”
It’s not just California that has seen a spike in new cases either. Oklahoma, Florida, and other states also reported new records of daily cases. This week, the United States as a whole broke its previous daily new case record.
These recent spikes are primarily located in Southern and Western states, but there is some good news. Some previously hard-hit places, like New York and New Jersey, have managed to keep their cases under control.
On June 23, Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a Capitol Hill hearing that states may want to consider being flexible with their reopening plans in response to new cases, and added:
“I wouldn’t necessarily say an absolute shutdown, lockdown, but if someone is going from gateway to Phase 1 to Phase 2 and they get into trouble in Phase 2, they may need to go back to Phase 1, ” he explained.
And states are doing just that. In addition to California: Louisiana, Oregon, North Carolina, and Kansas have all announced delays in their reopening schedules.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Florida Breaks Its Record for New Daily COVID-19 Cases and Hospitalizations
The Sunshine State now accounts for 20% of all new COVID-19 cases nationwide.
Florida Becomes COVID Epicenter
Florida reported 10,207 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday, marking its largest single-day count to date. The grim record comes just one day after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that the state had counted 21,683 new infections Friday, its highest record of daily cases since the start of the pandemic.
Florida has become the new epicenter of the most recent U.S. outbreaks driven by the delta variant. The state now accounts for one out of every five new cases, and the weekend numbers are highly significant because they surpass previous records that were logged before vaccines were readily available.
Notably, Florida’s vaccination rate is actually the exact same as the nationwide average of 49% fully vaccinated, according to The New York Times tracker. In fact, Florida’s rate is the highest among the top 10 states currently reporting the most COVID cases.
While Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has encouraged Florida residents to get vaccinated, he and the state’s legislature have also made it much harder for local officials to enforce protections to mitigate further spread.
DeSantis Bars Masking in Schools
On the same day that the state reported its highest cases ever, DeSantis signed an executive order banning school districts from requiring students to wear a mask when they go back to school later this month.
The move directly contradicts guidance issued by the CDC last week, which recommended that everyone inside K-12 schools wear a face covering.
DeSantis, for his part, has repeatedly claimed the spikes are part of “seasonal” increases driven by more people being indoors and air-conditioning systems circulating the virus. Still, he argued also Friday that he did not think masks were necessary to prevent children from transmitting COVID in the classroom, where they are inside with air conditioning.
At the same time, last week, Florida reported more than 21,000 infections among children younger than 19.
Florida is not the only state that has banned schools from requiring masks. In fact, many of the states suffering the biggest spikes have done the same, including Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas — which all currently rank among the top 10 states with the highest per capita COVID cases.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (Axios)
Biden to Mandate COVID Vaccines for Federal Workers as CDC Changes Masking Guidance
News of the efforts came on the same day that the U.S. reported more than 100,000 new daily COVID cases for the first time since February.
Federal Vaccine Mandate
President Joe Biden will announce Thursday that all federal employees must get vaccinated against COVID-19 or consent to strict testing and other safety precautions, White House officials told reporters Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, Biden said he was considering the requirement but did not provide any more information.
While the officials also said the details are still being hashed out, they did note that the policy would be similar to ones recently put in place by California and New York City, which respectively required state and city workers to get the jab or submit to regular testing.
Also on Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines to recommend that Americans who live in areas “of substantial or high transmission,” as well as all students and teachers, wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
Delta Causes Spikes, But Vaccines Still Prove Effective
The renewed COVID mitigation efforts come as the delta variant is driving massive surges all over the country.
Coronavirus cases have quadrupled throughout July, jumping from a weekly average of 11,799 on the first day of the month to 63,248 on Tuesday, according to The New York Times tracker. Tuesday also saw new daily infections topping 100,000 for the first time since February, with more than 108,000 reported, per The Times.
While the vast majority of new infections are among people who have not been vaccinated, there have also been increasing reports of breakthrough cases in people who have received the jab.
Those cases, however, do not mean that the vaccines are not effective.
No vaccine prevents 100% of infections. Health officials have said time and time again that the jabs are intended to prevent severe disease and death, and they are doing just that.
According to the most recent data for July 19, the CDC reported that only 5,914 of the more than 161 million Americans who have gotten the vaccine were hospitalized or died from COVID-19 — a figure that represents 0.0036% of vaccinated people.
While safety precautions may be recommended for some people who have received the vaccine, many media narratives have overstated the role breakthrough cases play in the recent spikes. As New York Magazine explains, it is imperative to understand these new mask recommendations are not happening because the vaccine is not effective, but because not enough people are getting the vaccine.
“Because breakthrough infections have so often made the news due to their novelty, that can create a perception of more cases than are actually happening — particularly without more robust tracking of the actual cases to provide context,” the outlet wrote.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNBC)
Wisconsin Police Deny Planting Evidence in Viral Video, Release Their Own Body Cam Footage
The footage police released shows that during a search, officers found a corner tear from a plastic bag inside a backseat passenger’s pocket. An officer then discarded it into the car after determining that it was empty.
Viral Video Appears To Show Officer Planting Evidence
The Caledonia Police Department in Wisconsin has responded to a viral cell phone video that appears to show an officer planting a small plastic baggie inside of a car during a traffic stop.
The now-viral footage was posted to Facebook by a man who goes by GlockBoy Savoo.
The user, who also filmed the clip, wrote in his post’s caption that the officer did this “just to get a reason to search the car” and said the cop didn’t know he was being recorded by the passenger.
Police Shut Down Accusations With Their Own Footage
After that video spread across social media, many were outraged, calling the Caledonia police dirty for seemingly planting evidence. All the outrage eventually prompted the department to announce an investigation Saturday.
Within hours, the department provided an update, claiming that officers didn’t actually plant any evidence or do anything illegal.
Police shared a lengthy summary of events, along with two body camera clips from the incident. That statement explained that the driver of the vehicle was pulled over for going 63 in a 45mph zone.
Two passengers in the backseat who were then spotted without seatbelts were asked to identify themselves and step out of the car. During a search of one passenger’s pockets, an officer pulled out “an empty corner tear” from a plastic baggie.
Police claim the corner tear did not contain any illegal substances, though they said this type of packaging is a common method for holding illegal drugs.
In one body cam clip, an officer can be heard briefly questioning the backseat passenger about the baggie. Then, that piece of plastic gets handed off to different officers who also determined it as empty before the officer in the original viral video discarded it into the back of the car.
The officer can also be seen explaining where the plastic came from to the passenger recording him.
“Aye, bro you just threw that in here!” the front seat passenger says, as heard in his version of the events.
“Yeah, cause it was in his pocket and I don’t want to hold onto it. It’s on their body cam that they took it off of him…I’m telling you where it came from, so. It’s an empty baggie at the moment too, so,” the officer replies.
The department went on to explain that while it would discourage officers from discarding items into a citizen’s car, this footage proves that evidence was not planted.
Authorities also noted that no arrests were made in this incident and the driver was the only one issued a citation for speeding. The statement added that since four officers were present at the scene, police have more than six hours of footage to review but they promised to release the footage in full in the near future.