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.

About 140 workers from Eastern Europe, mostly from Croatia and Slovenia, built a new paint shop at Tesla’s Fremont plant, a project vital to the flagship Silicon Valley automaker’s plans to ramp up production of its highly anticipated Model 3 sedan. Their story emerged from dozens of interviews conducted by the Bay Area News Group, and an extensive review of payroll, visa and court documents.

Yet neither the contractors involved nor Tesla itself have accepted legal responsibility for the hiring practices, long hours and low pay. While most of the imported workers interviewed for this story said they are happy with their paychecks, their American counterparts earn as much as $52 an hour for similar work.

“There’s definitely something wrong with this picture,” said Rob Stoker, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County, who believes local sheet metal workers lost tens of thousands of work hours and millions of dollars in wages.

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