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Elon Musk responds to exposé on foreign laborers at Tesla plant

Elon Musk responds to exposé on foreign laborers at Tesla plant
Elon Musk, seen here addressing shareholders, has said SolarCity's rooftop solar panels, Tesla storage batteries and Tesla electric cars make for a cohesive "end-to-end" sustainable energy company. (Yuriko Nakao / Bloomberg)

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk and his team have issued an explanation and partial apology after a San Jose Mercury News story accused the Bay Area car company of using cheap, imported labor to build its luxury battery-electric automobiles.

The Mercury News story said Tesla had employed a Slovenian $5-an-hour laborer in its paint shop -- a laborer who got injured on the job and subsequently sued Tesla over the accident.

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The newspaper identified Gregor Lesnik, 42, as one of about 140 foreign workers brought to Tesla's Fremont, Calif., plant to build and operate a new paint shop.

On Sunday night, Musk acknowledged being aware of the story, and vowed to look into the charges, saying he had only learned of the problem over the weekend -- though Lesnik's injury, which the News said included two broken legs, occurred a year ago.

Sounds like the wrong thing happened on many levels. Will investigate and make it right.


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"Sounds like the wrong thing happened on many levels," Musk tweeted. "Will investigate and make it right."

Musk's Tesla team later expanded, posting a lengthy but measured mea culpa on its website.

In the post, insisting that the company operates on standards of "hard work and exceptional performance, but always tempered by fairness, justice and kindness," the team said, "Those standards were not met."

Tesla's official position: Lesnik and other workers were brought to Fremont by a German contractor called Eisenmann and a subcontractor called ISM Vuzem, which were hired to build a high-volume paint shop to accommodate Tesla's increased production of Model S and Model X electric vehicles.

The post said that government agencies had investigated the accident, and deemed Tesla not responsible, and that a judge had subsequently dismissed Tesla from a worker's compensation lawsuit filed by Lesnik.

But the company, saying, "This is not a legal issue, it is a moral issue," said that Tesla intended to "give Mr. Lesnik the benefit of the doubt" and "take care of him."

The post also suggested that Tesla was entirely unaware that workers were being paid such low wages at their facility.

"If Mr. Lesnik or his colleagues were really being paid $5 an hour, that is totally unacceptable," the published statement said. "Tesla is one of the highest paying hourly employers in the U.S. automotive industry. We do this out of choice, because we think it is right."

Tesla representatives declined to add to the online team statement. An Eisenmann representative, contacted by email, did not respond.

The Silicon Valley Tesla, the state's leading automobile manufacturer, produces Model S and Model X electric cars, which have an average transaction price of more than $100,000. The company recently unveiled a third vehicle, the Model 3, which it plans to deliver at a starting MSRP of below $35,000.

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