Tesla CEO Elon Musk has vowed to investigate the mistreatment of workers, who largely were from Croatia and Slovenia, at the company's Fremont, California, plant. Credit: Flickr / Public Domain

Tesla used foreign laborers from Eastern Europe, some of whom earned as little as $5 an hour, to build a paint shop at the company’s Fremont, California, plant, according to The Mercury News.

After reading the story, Tesla CEO Elon Musk vowed to investigate the mistreatment of the workers, who largely were from Croatia and Slovenia.

Among those workers was Gregor Lesnik, an electrician from Slovenia, who claimed in a lawsuit to have worked 10 hours a day, for at least six days a week. Eisenmann, a German company, hired Lesnik through ISM Vuzem, a subcontractor, to help build Tesla’s paint shop. Both Vuzem and Eisenmann helped Lesnik secure a temporary business visa known as a B-1, even though he was performing hands-on work, according to The Mercury News.

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In May 2015, Lesnik plunged nearly three stories through the paint shop roof. He broke his legs and ribs, tore ligaments in his knee and suffered a concussion, according to The Mercury News.

Tesla initially denied responsibility for Lesnick, telling the Mercury News that it did not hire him.

But the company appeared to shift it’s stance after the article was published.

“Morally, we need to give Mr. Lesnik the benefit of the doubt and we need to take care of him,” Tesla said in a statement. “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.”

Jennifer Gollan can be reached at jgollan@cironline.org. Follow her on Twitter: @jennifergollan.


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Jennifer Gollan is an award-winning reporter. Her investigation When Abusers Keep Their Guns, which exposed how perpetrators often kill their intimate partners with guns they possess unlawfully, spurred sweeping provisions in federal law that greatly expanded the power of local and state police and prosecutors to crack down on abusers with illegal firearms. The project won a 2022 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and has been nominated for a 2022 Emmy Award.

Gollan also has reported on topics ranging from oil companies that dodge accountability for workers’ deaths to shoddy tire manufacturing practices that kill motorists. Her series on rampant exploitation and abuse of caregivers in the burgeoning elder care-home industry, Caregivers and Takers, prompted a congressional hearing and a statewide enforcement sweep in California to recover workers’ wages. Another investigation – focused on how Navy shipbuilders received billions in public money even after their workers were killed or injured on the job – led to tightened federal oversight of contractors’ safety violations.

Gollan’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Associated Press, The Guardian US and Politico Magazine, as well as on PBS NewsHour and Al Jazeera English’s “Fault Lines” program. Her honors include a national Emmy Award, a Hillman Prize for web journalism, two Sigma Delta Chi Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists, a National Headliner Award, a Gracie Award and two Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing awards. Gollan is based in the San Francisco Bay Area.