Tesla has issued a response to this weekend’s report that a factory worker who worked on the company’s high-volume paint shop at Fremont, CA plant was part of a group of foreign workers that were paid $5/hr and operated outside the terms of their visas.
The story has gained attention after the San Jose Mercury published a report of its recent investigation on Gregor Lesnik’s suit against the electric vehicle maker and several other defendants for unfair treatment in a workplace. The Mercury reports that a Slovenian company called ISM Vuzem flew Lesnik and a group of foreign workers to the U.S. while housing them in “nondescript apartments” where they would be shuttled from and to the Tesla plant to work six to seven days a week at low wages.
Among the claims in the lawsuit via the Mercury:
- Eisenmann USA wrote letters to the U.S. Embassy on behalf of Lesnik and as many as 200 foreign workers stating they would supervise employees at a U.S. auto plant. Most of the Vuzem workers were nonsupervisory laborers and tradesmen.
- Tesla issued company security badges to the foreign workers, recorded their time on site and shared responsibility for setting safety conditions.
- Vuzem required foreign employees to regularly work between 60 and 70 hours a week. Vuzem paid Lesnik an average of 800 euros per month, or about $900, for a rate of less than $5 per hour. Lesnik was promised an equal amount when he returned home, but the company never paid the balance.
- The companies violated wage and employment laws and benefitted from the cheap labor of foreign workers. Workers were promised $12.70 an hour based on a standard workweek. The suit estimates they are due $2.6 million in overtime and premium pay.
Tesla has issued a response to the story defending their stance that the company operated within legal limits stating that Lesnik’s claim is a moral issue at heart, but the company will see to it that the right thing happens and all are treated fairly should the claims be true.
According to Tesla’s issued response, Lesnik’s accident as a result of slipping on loose tile and falling three stories while working on the company’s high-volume paint shop, was investigated by the government regulator that oversees workplace accidents (Cal/OSHA) and found to be not at fault of the company. Tesla’s statement says, “When Mr. Lesnik brought a workers compensation case, Tesla was dismissed from the case because the judge concluded that we had no legal responsibility for what occurred.”
Here’s a copy of Tesla’s full response to the story.
“At Tesla, we aspire to operate on the principles of hard work and exceptional performance, but always tempered by fairness, justice and kindness. There are times when mistakes are made, but those are the standards to which we hold ourselves. With respect to the person at the center of this weekend’s article in the Mercury News, those standards were not met. We are taking action to address this individual’s situation and to put in place additional oversight to ensure that our workplace rules are followed even by sub-subcontractors to prevent such a thing from happening again.
Gregor Lesnik was brought to the Tesla factory by a company called ISM Vuzem, a sub-contractor brought in by Eisenmann, the firm that we hired to construct our new, high-volume paint shop. We contracted with Eisenmann for the simple reason that we do not know how to build paint shops and they are regarded as one of the best, if not the best, in the world. In our dealings with them, we have found them to be an excellent company, run by good people.
The article describes how Mr. Lesnik came to this country, the conditions under which Vuzem employed him and others to do their work, and how Mr. Lesnik ended up being injured while on the job. Assuming the article is correct, we need to do right by Mr. Lesnik and his colleagues from Vuzem. This is not a legal issue, it is a moral issue. As far as the law goes, Tesla did everything correctly. We hired a contractor to do a turnkey project at our factory and, as we always do in these situations, contractually obligated our contractor to comply with all laws in bringing in the resources they felt were needed to do the job.
Regarding the accident that resulted in Mr. Lesnik being injured, Cal/OSHA (the government regulator that investigates workplace accidents like these) came to our factory, investigated the incident and found that Tesla was not responsible. When Mr. Lesnik brought a workers compensation case, Tesla was dismissed from the case because the judge concluded that we had no legal responsibility for what occurred.
All of that is fine legally, but there is a larger point. Morally, we need to give Mr. Lesnik the benefit of the doubt and we need to take care of him. We will make sure this happens. We do not condone people coming to work at a Tesla facility, whether they work for us, one of our contractors or even a sub-subcontractor, under the circumstances described in the article. If Mr. Lesnik or his colleagues were really being paid $5 an hour, that is totally unacceptable. Tesla is one of the highest paying hourly employers in the US automotive industry. We do this out of choice, because we think it is right. Nobody is making us do so.
Tesla will be working with Eisenmann and Vuzem to investigate this thoroughly. If the claims are true, Tesla will take action to ensure that the right thing happens and all are treated fairly.
Creating a new car company is extremely difficult and fraught with risk, but we will never be a company that by our action does, or by our inaction allows, the wrong thing to happen just to save money.”