Tesla was recently accused of paying less than $5 per hour to the imported subcontractors working at its Fremont factory. The automaker swiftly responded to the claims, saying it will probe the claims.
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The case has aroused the interest of federal regulators as well, but they have not commented whether an official review is planned or not. On Sunday, a newspaper investigation titled “The Hidden Workforce Expanding Tesla’s Factory” was published. The case features a 42-year-old Slovenian laborer named Gregor Lesnik who met with a serious factory accident in 2015.
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Eisenmann, a German-based manufacturer, and Slovenian subcontractor ISM Vuzen have been named in the accident, lawsuit and investigation as the employers of at least 140 imported workers on B-1/B-2 visas were said to be hired at substandard wages to build a paint shop. Immigration experts say the construction could have violated visa regulations as well. The regulations prohibit visa holders from performing hands-on work.
On Sunday, Musk tweeted that he just heard about the story, and that it “Sounds like the wrong thing happened on many levels. Will investigate and make it right.”
Then on Monday, the company issued a one-page statement saying that not only had it acted legally, but it also held itself to higher moral standards.
“If Mr. Lesnik or his colleagues were really being paid $5 an hour that is totally unacceptable,” the EV firm said.
What do authorities say?
Whether any investigations are going on or not is something on which federal officials from the Department of Labor and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, chose not to comment. ICE enforces visa and immigration laws, and a spokesman said the agency is well aware of the situation.
Michael Eastwood, assistant district director at the U.S. Department of Labor in San Jose, said the agency usually investigates reports of much smaller imported workforces. The officer chose not to comment directly on Lesnik’s case but said foreign workers faced problems in filing complaints because of unfamiliarity with the language and U.S. standards. Eastwood said the reports regarding B-1/B-2 visa holders on job sites had increased.
“It’s shocking that in one of the wealthiest places in the world — Silicon Valley — people are getting paid even less than the federal minimum wage.”
Tesla has not approached Lesnik’s attorney, William Dresser, who hopes that the company will do the right thing. Lesnik returned to Slovenia last year but is still injured and unable to work, the lawyer informed the media. The Department of Labor has contacted Lesnik, said Dresser.