An employee at Tesla’s solar panel plant in Buffalo, N.Y., said an employee at the plant tested positive for COVID-19, according tomedia outlet The Verge. It is the fourth person Tesla has known to be infected with the new coronavirus, but the first confirmed employee since the company reopened its U.S. plant in May. An employee of Panasonic, which shares space with Tesla’s plants in New York and Nevada, also tested positive before the shutdown in March.
Tesla quietly reopened its New York plant on May 19 after the state gave the district the green light, Buffalo Business First reported for the first time Friday. But the company has not resumed full production and will not do so for some time. In fact, Tesla told the officials that it laid off 984 “full-time Tesla independent contractors” in April because of the shutdown, and that it would keep fewer than 500 full-time employees there for the time being.
The job cuts mean Tesla has fallen short of the state’s key employment target spree for the Buffalo plant. Tesla had told state officials that it would exceed its goal of 1,500 jobs shortly before the U.S. pandemic became a major, but now it has asked the state to give it another year to meet those hiring targets so it doesn’t have to pay a $41.2 million fine. (The state says the request is under review)
Tesla has brought back laid-off workers after its plants in California and Nevada reopened, so it’s unclear why they didn’t bring them back to New York. The company did not respond to multiple emails, phone calls and text messages seeking comment. Last week, some workers at Panasonic Solar’s North American division shared news of a new positive test with some at the Tesla plant, according to the employee. Tesla found positive tests in the week from May 18 to May 22 — the week the PSNA shut down its operations in March, the week it recalled its employees, as The Verge first reported.
Tesla’s new COVID-19 incident came as no surprise after it resumed work. All three Detroit automakers have tested positive for workers, as have many companies in the food industry.
Although both companies have now returned to reopen their factories, PSNA will not be there for long. The company announced in February that it was closing its work at its Buffalo plant and told 400 workers there that their jobs would not be available until the end of May. But due to the shutdown, the company will retain some of its employees until the end of June to complete orders for solar panel equipment, and then exit the plant completely in September.
PsNA employees receive varying degrees of support as for the status of these jobs. The current PSNA employee said Tesla recruiters told them they could apply to the temporary agency the company uses in the hope of being reassigned to the plant. PSNA also held virtual information sessions for employees who would like to move to Reno, Nevada, to work in the battery division that shares Gigafactory with Tesla, according to an email obtained by The Verge.
“Like many companies, their hiring has slowed, but they are expected to increase in the near future. One of the PSNA officials wrote. “If you are interested in staying at Panasonic and are open to the possibility of moving to the Reno/Spac area, please join us.” “
Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in March that he was struggling to keep Tesla’s plant in California running, and that it had reopened in May, even calling it “fascist.”
The company continues to take steps to ensure that the Fremont, California, plant can continue to operate. This week, Tesla sent a letter to employees saying they should show them if they were stopped for violating a local curfew in connection with the killing of George Floyd. A copy of the letter obtained by The Verge said the local police department confirmed that Tesla employees could “continue to work at Tesla Fremont’s premises during the curfew period” as they performed “necessary” work.
But Musk and Tesla have made no similar effort to keep the Buffalo plant open. Tesla makes equipment there for its super charging stations, but its main products there are solar panels and Solar Roof solar tiles. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said simply in April, “Solar Roof is growing well until COVID basically leads us to shut down, both in terms of installation capabilities and the ability to license.” “
Musk also said in March that Tesla might use the Buffalo plant to produce ventilators for COVID-19 patients during the shutdown, but the company eventually focused on sourcing medical devices from places like China.