Tesla vows to 'do right' by illegal foreign workers

Tesla's Model 3 is an electric car for the masses
Tesla's Model 3 is an electric car for the masses

Tesla admits that foreign workers employed to expand its factory should not have been hired, including one who was seriously injured on the job.

In a statement, Tesla blamed a subcontractor for the hiring and said that it hadn't done anything illegal itself. But the automaker also said that it will take steps to "do right" by the injured worker, and other foreign laborers. The company didn't elaborate on how it plans to do that.

A story in the Mercury News over the weekend detailed how a worker from Slovenia named Gregor Lesnik came to the United States with an improper work visa. He was severely injured in a three-story fall at the Tesla plant in Fremont, Calif. a year ago, and has filed suit against the subcontractor, ISM Vuzem, that hired him.

Lesnik was bought to the U.S. on a visa meant for employees in supervisory roles, but he was performing manual labor to build a paint shop at the factory. That facility is part of Tesla's push to ramp up production to meet the demand for its new mass market Model 3, due out at end of 2017.

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Lesnik suffered two broken legs, broken ribs and and severe concussion, among other injuries, when he fell through a roof of the building last May, according to the lawsuit. It also charges he was working seven days a week for a total of 68 hours a week, but was only paid for 40 hours a week.

Tesla (TSLA) says it relied on its contracting firm Eisenmann, which in turn hired Vuzem, to make sure all labor and immigration laws were complied with.

"As far as the law goes, Tesla did everything correctly," it said.

In addition to its vow to "do right" by Lesnick and other foreign workers hired by Vuzem, Tesla also said it would institute greater oversight to make sure contractors and subcontractors comply with the law.

"This is not a legal issue, it is a moral issue," said Tesla's statement. "At Tesla, we aspire to operate on the principles of hard work and exceptional performance, but always tempered by fairness, justice and kindness. With respect to the person at the center of this weekend's article in the Mercury News, those standards were not met."

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The suit charges all Vuzem employees at the Tesla plant are also illegal immigrant laborers. According to the article, there are hundreds of illegal immigrants working on expensive construction projects in Silicon Valley for less than minimum wage.

Lesnick also alleges that Vuzem executives tried to get him to leave the hospital and fly home a week after he was injured in order to avoid any legal problems, which would have put him at risk for a fatal pulmonary embolism.

Tesla said that it signed the contract with Eisenmann because of its reputation for providing top quality paint facilities, and that "we have found them to be an excellent company, run by good people."

Eisenmann said last year that its Tesla contract was worth at least $100 million, the largest in the company's history. Its spokesman said Tuesday it is working on preparing a statement about the case. Vuzem did not respond to a request for comment.

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