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Tesla investigates damning report

Investigation: A worker has filed a lawsuit relating to the building of a new paint shop at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory where it will produce the Model 3.

Underpaid foreign workers allegedly hired by subcontractor for Tesla paint plant

Tesla logo18 May 2016

By TIM NICHOLSON

TESLA says it will investigate a report alleging a sub-contractor for the electric vehicle-maker hired foreign workers for as little as $US5 an hour to build its new paint shop.

The report in Californian publication The Mercury News says Tesla hired a contractor, Eisenmann, which then hired a sub-contracting company, ISM Vuzem, to engage workers to expand the company’s paint shop at the Fremont, California, factory in preparation for production of the highly anticipated Model 3 EV.

One of the factory workers, Gregor Lesnik, reportedly was brought in from Slovenia, thinking he was going to work in an automotive factory in South Carolina, but instead ending up in Silicon Valley where he was earning the equivalent of $US5 an hour – far less than the $US52 an hour his American counterparts can earn for similar work.

The report suggest many other workers were brought in from Slovenia and Croatia by the sub-contractor, and that Mr Lesnik was one of few workers that were happy with their pay cheque.

Mr Lesnik, who reportedly worked 10 hours a day, six days a week, filed a lawsuit relating to the conditions and low wages, naming ISM Vuzem.

He filed the suit after breaking both of his legs and ribs, tearing ligaments in his knee, and sustaining concussion when he walked on an unsecured tile on the roof of the paint shop and fell almost three storeys to the factory floor.

Earlier this week, Tesla responded, saying on a post on its blog that the company’s usual high standards were not met in this case and that it was looking into ways to avoid it happening in the future.

“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,” the post read.

Tesla said it believed it had done everything by the book and added that the government agency that looks into workplace accidents had cleared the California start-up of any wrongdoing.

“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) 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.”

The EV-maker said it would work closely with Eisenmann and Vuzem to investigate the issue. It added that should the report be confirmed by the investigation, it would work to address it and ensure it did not occur again.

“Morally, we need to give Mr Lesnik the benefit of the doubt and we need to take care of him,” he said. “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 committed to ensuring it will not allow something like this to occur simply to save money.

“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.”

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