As electric vehicle company Tesla reopens its factory this week in Fremont, California, employees are speaking out on conditions they experienced while working at the plant. Some workers have even claimed the factory poses a “life and death situation” for them amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

“It’s a modern-day sweatshop,” Carlos Gabriel, an assembly line worker at the factory told SF Weekly. 

Gabriel, who added that he has never worked at a company as "cultish" as Tesla, has refused to return to the plant because he fears for his safety. 

“This is a life and death situation,” one factory worker told SF Weekly. “There’s really no room, and this is a factory with recycled air. You’re basically just breathing on each other.”

Workers at the Fremont factory are non-unionized, which potentially creates obstacles to have their safety demands heard by management.

In September, a California judge ruled that Tesla CEO Elon Musk had illegally sabotaged attempts by employees to form a union at the Fremont plant. In a Twitter post, Musk had suggested that Tesla employees who form a union would lose their stock options. 

Employee reviews of Tesla’s Fremont Plant on Glassdoor are mostly positive, with 77% of respondents approving of Musk as CEO. Many of the reviews, however, indicate a lack of work-life balance at the plant. Shifts at the factory for assembly workers often last eight to 12 hours, with 35 minutes for lunch. 

Tesla’s Human Resources department has said the company is “well-prepared” in safely reopening its Fremont plant amid the pandemic. Tesla has said its safety precautions are the  “result of months of careful planning and preparation.”

The Fremont plant is located in Alameda County and roughly 40 miles outside San Francisco. In mid-March, Alameda County authorities enacted a stay-at-home order, with Tesla at first resisting the edict. Tesla eventually closed down the plant, but Musk has repeatedly railed against stay-at-home orders, claiming they are “fascist” and taking away individual freedom.

Earlier in May, Musk filed a lawsuit against Alameda County to put pressure on authorities to allow him to reopen the Fremont plant. Musk also claimed he was going to take Tesla’s operations from California to Nevada, Texas or Oklahoma.

President Donald Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin both supported Musk in his fight with local authorities. Musk eventually reached a deal with Alameda County to reopen the plant.