The Legal Record
VOL. 122, NO. 21 ONLINE EDITION May 26, 2020
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Musk a champion for businesses defying shutdown
At the Fit4All Gym in Lebanon, Illinois, owner David Tate considers Elon Musk a huge ally in the fight against government coronavirus orders that Tate says are driving him into the poorhouse.  

Tate reopened his 250-member gym in defiance of state orders on May 11, the same day Musk restarted his huge San Francisco Bay Area factory despite being told not to by the county Health Department.  

Like other business owners hit hard by coronavirus shutdown orders, Tate says Musk is a leader in the growing movement to reopen in the face of government orders, giving smaller businesses a boost and letting them know they’re not in the fight alone.  

“We needed somebody with a voice as big as his to step up and say what he did,” Tate said.  

Musk, with 34 million Twitter followers, openly defied an order from the Alameda County Health Department to conduct only minimum operations at the plant in Fremont, California, that normally employs 10,000 people. On Twitter he made derisive comments about the county’s top health official. He has called the stay-home restrictions “fascist” and said they rob people of freedom.  

Musk is admired by business owners who think the government shouldn’t be telling them to stay closed if they’re willing to take precautions to reopen safely. That includes Mike Jellison, who reopened his gym in Arlington, Washington, on May 11 even though it violated state restrictions.  

“I have been reading what he has been saying on Twitter, and it sounds like he is taking all the right precautions,” Jellison said of Musk.  

Musk’s fans, who admire how he’s shaken up the auto business and launched rockets into space, will love how he resisted authorities, said Erik Gordon, a business and law professor at the University of Michigan. Electric car buyers who aren’t necessarily Musk disciples, however, won’t have the same opinion.  

“They are more in favor of safety and more in favor of protecting workers,” Gordon said. “The crowd that sees ultra-wealthy techno-elite CEOs as a menace to society will hate it.”  

Within California, where Tesla was born, Musk has had a long history and in some ways personifies the Silicon Valley ethos of innovation, starting with electric car designs and later moving into building rocket ships with his company SpaceX. When he opened the Fremont plant in 2010 at a recently shuttered factory that was jointly run by General Motors and Toyota, Musk was embraced with open arms by another California legend, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.  

The relationship has been fruitful for Tesla, netting Musk hundreds of millions in subsidies, including nine years of sales tax exemptions totaling nearly $250 million.  

Gov. Gavin Newsom, a former San Francisco mayor, said he has a long relationship with Musk, noting that the state has “substantively supported” Tesla for many years. He anticipated the relationship would continue.  

Tesla says it has a plan to maintain worker safety, including the wearing of gloves and masks, barriers between workers and maintaining social distancing. It also will do temperature checks at selected sites, the plan said.  

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