FREMONT, Calif. (KGO) --Electric car maker Tesla is promising to investigate charges that some of its contract workers were paid as little as $5 an hour to build a new paint shop at its Fremont factory.
The laborers came from Eastern Europe and were hired by a subcontractor.
One man left Slovenia to work at Tesla to make money for his family. But the pay didn't add up, and after an on-the-job accident, he was left with two broken legs, broken ribs and a concussion.
It's said to be one of the most advanced auto plants in the world.
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However, a 42 year old worker from Slovenia claims he earned only $5 an hour after he was injured while building a new paint shop.
Gregor Lesnik was recruited by a subcontractor and promised a 40-hour week at $12.70 an hour. But he worked 75 hours a week without overtime. And when he fell three stories from scaffolding, his job ended and the money stopped.
His San Jose attorney calculates Lesnik made the equivalent of $5 an hour.
"Certainly less than even federal minimum wages. certainly less than state minimum wages, certainly less than a person who was going to be a supervisor doing specialized work," said William Dresser, Lesnik's attorney.
Dresser has filed a complaint, seeking damages from Tesla, a contractor and a subcontractor. Although CalOSHA, the state's workplace safety regulator, declared Tesla not responsible for the accident, critics argue that Tesla was negligent.
"If Tesla was jointly liable with that subcontracting company, they probably would have gotten in trouble, and they would have been forced to know what's really happening. I think they really need to pay more attention to what's happening and hold companies to account," said Daniel Costa with the Economic Policy Institute.
Tesla issued a response to the San Jose Mercury News, which is investigative the story. It reads, in part, "If Mr. Lesnick or his colleagues were really being paid $5 an hour, that is totally unacceptable. If the claims are true, Tesla will take action to ensure that the right thing happens and all are treated fairly."
Lesnick is staying with friends in the East Bay. His attorney says Lesnick owes $900,000 in medical bills.