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Balkan Workers Allege Tesla Denied California Overtime

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More than one hundred workers claim that Tesla denied them overtime pay at the electric vehicle maker’s Fremont, California, facility. And this isn’t the first Tesla overtime lawsuit.

Fremont, CAA California federal judge has ruled that over 100 Balkan workers employed at Tesla’s facility in Fremont can proceed with an overtime class action. According to Judge Beth Labson Freeman, there is enough evidence to imply that the workers were paid flat monthly wages without overtime, a California labor law violation. Tesla is gaining a reputation for overtime lawsuits.

Sasa Maslic v. Vuzem et al

Sasa Maslic, the lead plaintiff, brought the lawsuit along with 13 other Tesla workers who allege they were brought to the U.S. from Bosnia and Herzegovenia, the Republic of Slovenia, and Croatia to provide cheap labor for American companies. Vuzem, a Slovenian company and one of the defendants—along with Tesla and its general contractor Eisenmann Corporation—employed the 177 workers and contracted their labor to work on a construction project at Tesla’s Fremont facility, state court documents. The plaintiffs accuse Vuzem, Tesla, and Eisenmann of wage and hour violations under federal and California state law, and for human trafficking under federal and state law.

Plaintiffs say they lived in assigned housing units, were picked up by a van at 6:30 a.m. every Monday through Saturday for transport to the Tesla facility, and were returned to their housing units after 6:00 p.m. every Monday through Friday and after 4:00 p.m. every Saturday; they often worked Sundays. Maslic claims they were required to work 11½-hour shifts without meal or rest breaks, hourly wages or overtime compensation.

Plaintiffs claim that Defendants Vuzem, Eisenmann, and Tesla:
  • Failed failure to pay minimum wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”);
  • Failed to pay overtime wages in violation of the FLSA;
  • Failed to pay minimum wages in violation of California law;
  • Failed to pay overtime wages in violation of California law;
  • Failed to provide meal breaks and rest periods in violation of California law;
  • Failed o provide accurate wage statements in violation of California law;
  • Failed to pay waiting time penalties in violation of California law;
  • Human Trafficking and coerced labor under the federal Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and the California Trafficking Victims Protection Act;
Plaintiffs first filed this lawsuit in the Alameda County Superior Court in August 2020, and filed a first amended complaint in October 2020. Tesla and Eisenmann removed the lawsuit to federal district court in April 2021, asserting the existence of federal jurisdiction based on Plaintiffs’ federal statutory claims and the Class Action Fairness Act. The case was assigned to Judge Lucy H. Koh, who severed and remanded one claim to the state court, and also dismissed all wage and hour claims against Tesla and Eisenmann.

The wage claims against Tesla and Eisenmann were dismissed by a California judge in 2021, but the human trafficking claims were preserved against Telsa. At the end of June, Judge Freeman ruled that the workers had sufficient evidence to suggest that Vuzem treated the workers it recruited to work at the Tesla plant according to uniform policies. Evidence to establish that Maslic was a typical employee comprised two statements detailing Maslic's work schedule, his flat monthly pay and his inability to take breaks, according to Law360.

Further, Freeman said that the proposed class's composition of primarily non-America-born workers made them unlikely to pursue their own claims in American courts, which weighed in favor of class certification. 

The class involves all ISM Vuzem employees who worked at Tesla's Fremont facility between July 2014 and April 2016. The case is Maslic et al. v. ISM Vuzem d.o.o. et al., case number 21-cv-02556.

Another Tesla Overtime Complaint

In a similar complaint filed in 2018, a temp employee contracted by a staffing agency to work for Tesla claimed that Tesla employees did not receive overtime compensation or work breaks. Plaintiff Dorley Nezbeth-Altimore argued that Tesla should also be held liable for alleged staffing violations in addition to the staffing agency itself. As well, Balance Staffing pressured workers to receive debit payroll cards instead of paychecks, which is illegal according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

“This is a dispute between a temporary worker and her employer staffing agency, which is responsible for payment of her wages,” a spokesperson for the car manufacturer said and Bloomberg Law reported. “There is no specific wrongdoing alleged against Tesla. Regardless, whether Tesla or a staffing agency, we expect employers to act ethically, lawfully and do what is right.”  


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