Over the weekend, the San Jose Mercury ran a story about a foreign worker who was injured while working on improvements to the paint shop at the Tesla factory in Fremont. The story alleged that some of those workers were paid as little as $5.00 an hour.
Not so says Mark West president of Eisenmann the German-based manufacturer of industrial systems that won the contract to build Tesla’s high-volume paint shop
In a letter to Tesla dated May 17, West states that Vuzem the subcontractor who employed the foreign worker agreed to a $55 per hour base rate “for additional services” (and it goes on to reference an attachment). “This rate gave ISM Vuzem full opportunity to pay its workers appropriately,” West says in his letter.
West also says that his company was not involved in any visa violations. The Mercury story alleged that Robert Miller, Eisenman’s purchasing manager in Chicago, told INS in a letter that Lesnik was a “supervisor of electrical and mechanical installation. His assignment will involve multiple border entries but in no way adversely affect the employment of citizens of the United States.” There is clearly a discrepancy between West’s representations and what was reported in the Mercury article.
West goes on to say that Eisenmann requires compliance with all “permits, fees, notices, and compliance with laws” in all its contracts, and that it is “committed tor our employees and business partners to offering fair and appropriate working conditions and salaries.” The letter concludes by saying Eisenmann is revising its procedures relating to how its suppliers deal with labor regulations and obligations, and promises “our comprehensive commitment and cooperation.”
The import of the letter is that Tesla paid Vuzem full value for each employee, including benefits and extras. The open question is whether Vuzem improperly diverted some of those payments to its own account rather than paying them to its employees. In his letter, West claimed “ISM Vuzem has been a long term supplier to Eisenmann. We have been working with ISM Vuzem because of their proven record of consistently excellent work in conjunction with our proprietary equipment. As an experienced and reliable partner on global projects, we engaged ISM Vuzem for the Tesla project.”
After receiving the letter from Eisenmann, Elon Musk tweeted:
We still need to make sure that the injured person is taken care of, but less & less of the Merc story appears to be true
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 18, 2016
There are still discrepancies to be resolved, but it now appears that Tesla Motors did not gain any advantage in this transaction and that if there was wrong doing, it occurred without Tesla’s knowledge or participation.