Tesla CEO: We'll Investigate $5 an Hour Labor Claims

Newspaper says foreign workers were brought in on the cheap
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 17, 2016 1:31 PM CDT
Tesla CEO: We'll Investigate $5 an Hour Labor Claims
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk at a conference for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, Dec. 2, 2015.   (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

An article in Sunday's San Jose Mercury News exposed a troubling narrative about Tesla's plant in Fremont, Calif., claiming that about 140 workers from Eastern Europe were imported by a subcontractor to build a paint shop for the Model 3 sedan—for $5 an hour. Per the Guardian, the story centers on a suit filed by Gregor Lesnik, a Slovenian hired by ISM Vuzem, a small Slovenian company subcontracted by Eisenmann, the company in charge of the Tesla project. Lesnik says he was told he'd be a supervisor at a South Carolina plant; instead he was shipped to Silicon Valley in March 2015 with 140 or so other foreigners to start menial work on an industrial HVAC system for Tesla. His suit says he and other workers put in up to 70 hours a week and were paid the equivalent of $5 an hour without benefits. US employees typically make $52 an hour for comparable work.

Lesnik suffered a three-story fall on the job in May 2015 and says in his suit that Vuzem officials tried to strong-arm him into quickly returning to Slovenia "because of "the multiple legal problems including … visas, housing, [and] working conditions," per the Guardian. Tesla CEO Elon Musk responded to the article, tweeting Monday he had only heard about Lesnik over the past day or so. "Sounds like the wrong thing happened on many levels. Will investigate and make it right," he wrote. Tesla also whipped up a blog post, noting that, "assuming the article is correct, we need to do right by Mr. Lesnik and his colleagues." But it also deflected liability, saying it's up to the contractor to adhere to all laws. Both Tesla and Eisenmann have tried to escape the suit, which so far has been allowed to include them. (More Elon Musk stories.)

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