Contractor Blows The Whistle On Bloom Energy Transport Of Mexican Workers

2/8/13 11:48AM EST

bloomenergy Contractor Blows The Whistle On Bloom Energy Transport Of Mexican Workers

A whistleblower claims nationally-recognized Bloom Energy has been transporting unauthorized workers to and from Mexico, paying them less than minimum wage and issuing salaries in the form of pesos.

It wasn’t right what they were doing. It’s not the way to treat people”, said a former Bloom Energy contractor who claims he blew the whistle to authorities about the company’s mistreatment of the workers, who were brought to this country on visitor visas from the Bloom Energy plant in Chihuahua. “The first complaint I heard was from someone who said, ‘I don’t know why I came up here. I could be down there making the same money and be with my family,” said the contractor, who spoke to Mercury News but asked to remain anonymous for fear of jeopardizing future contracts.

Bloom Energy, which boasts a board of directors including former US Secretary of State Colin Powell and venture capitalist John Doerr, has won national attention for its innovative fuel-cell technologies. But after what Labor Department official Ruben Rosalez called “appalling” actions, the firm was ordered to pay $70,000 in back wages, damages and fines.

According to US officials, the Mexican workers traveled to California’s Bay Area to work for the Silicon Valley startup using a visa that does not allow them to work while in the country. Authorities claim Bloom Energy paid the Mexican workers in pesos by wiring the funds into their Mexican bank accounts. Bloom also paid for the motel they men stayed in while working, and funded their meals up to $50 a day. Still, the wage paid to the Mexican employees was less than one-third of the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Plus, investigators claim the men worked an average of 51 hours each week but were not paid the overtime rate required by law for any work beyond 40 hours per week.

It was clear the employer had knowledge of labor laws,” said Labor Department spokeswoman Deanne Amaden.

Bloom Energy kept up its façade by transporting a group of workers from Chihuahua, Mexico to Sunnyvale, Calif. to work alongside US employees for about three weeks at a time. The group would then be sent back to Mexico and a new set of Mexico workers transported north in their place. Authorities believe the cycle continued for the past two years.

While there are circumstances under which welders could enter the U.S. on valid nonimmigrant visas to work, that would be uncommon,” said Sharon Rummery of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency. She added, “We won’t speculate on actions of any specific company in securing foreign workers.

[Image via Flick/BloomEnergy]