An Astonishing Tale of Foreign Worker Exploitation by Silicon Valley's Darling Carmaker, Tesla

It’s no question that immigration and outsourcing are two of the hottest topics in the presidential election. But some companies are facilitating both and losing big in the process. Take Tesla, for example.

“When Gregor Lesnik left his pregnant girlfriend in Slovenia for a job in America, his visa application described specialized skills and said he was a supervisor headed to a South Carolina auto plant. Turns out, that wasn’t true,” writes Louis Hansen for the Mercury News.

Instead of going to South Carolina to oversee American workers, Lesnik was sent to work in California’s Silicon Valley by the very companies that arranged his suspicious visa, where he earned a mere $5 an hour.

“Lesnik’s three-month tenure ended a year ago in a serious injury and a lawsuit that has exposed a troubling practice in the auto industry. Overseas contractors are shipping workers from impoverished countries to American factories, where they work long hours for low wages, in apparent violation of visa and labor laws,” Hansen writes.

Lesnik was one of 140 workers from Eastern Europe building a new paint shop at Tesla’s Fremont plant. However under U.S. immigration law, workers on B1/B2 visas are largely banned from performing hands-on jobs, such as Lesnik’s role installing ventilation pipes. After falling 30 feet, breaking both legs and losing consciousness in a factory accident, Lesnik’s Slovenian employer advised that Lesnik return home. Lesnik did return; but he isn’t done with Tesla just yet.

Tesla is one of several companies Lesnik is suing. The lawsuit includes claims for back wages and damages.

In breaking the story, Hansen, with help from staff writer Matt O'Brien, conducted dozens of interviews with employees, as well as an extensive review of payroll, visa and court documents.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk claims to have just caught wind of the story yesterday, and says he aims to “make it right.”


Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card


Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.