Elon Musk Is Sorry Foreign Workers May Have Built His Factory For $5 an Hour

A Slovenian construction worker claims a Tesla subcontractor owes more than 140 foreign workers $2.6 million in neglected pay.

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors (Norsk Telegrambyra / Reuters)

The owner of Tesla Motors has vowed to investigate news reports that found foreign workers hired by a subcontractor to build a Tesla factory in California were paid just $5 an hour.

Elon Musk on Monday acknowledged a recently published investigation by The San Jose Mercury News that found a company hired to build a paint shop for Tesla in Fremont, California, underpaid more than 140 workers it brought to the United States on visas for temporary business visitors. The report centers on a Slovenian man, Gregor Lesnik, who was paid less than minimum wage by ISM Vuzem, a construction company based in Slovenia.

Musk said Monday he did not know about the situation and would investigate. Here’s part of his statement:

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.

… 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.

The San Jose Mercury News reported Lesnik was injured on the job after he fell three stories from a roof, and that ISM Vuzem tried to get Lesnik out of the country to cover up issues with its visas and working conditions.

ISM Vuzem was contracted by Eisenmann, a German-based industrial systems manufacturer, which Tesla hired to build its new paint shop. The workers from Slovenia and Croatia had been promised nearly $13 an hour (still a fraction of the $52 an hour paid to Americans for similar work), and when they arrived they logged up to 70 hours a week with no overtime pay, and hourly earnings beneath the minimum wage. Lesnik has sued all companies involved, claiming he and the other workers are owed $2.6 million for their promised pay and overtime.