On Monday, Sunnyvale-based Bloom Energy, which generated much buzz in early 2010 for its “Bloom Box” fuel cell generators, was fined by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division for underpaying 14 Mexican nationals and compensating them in Mexican pesos. In addition to the $6,160 in civil penalties, Bloom was ordered to pay almost $32,000 in back wages and the same amount in liquidated damages to the workers, who were brought into the U.S. on visitors’ visas from their home in Chihuahua, Mexico.
According to a KNTV report, the workers maintained power generators between 2010 and 2012, lived in a Stay America Hotel across from Bloom’s headquarters in Sunnyvale and received $50 per diem a day for food–but had to return any unspent money at the end of the day. Bloom had wired the wages into the workers’ bank accounts in Mexico with the average hourly wage coming to $2.66 an hour.
Bloom was found in violation of several provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Beyond paying the workers far below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, Bloom had also skirted laws covering overtime and record-keeping provisions of the FLSA. In addition to the back wages and other compensation Bloom had to pay its employees, the company cannot ship or sell any goods manufactured in violation of U.S. federal compensation laws.
“This investigation has remedied illegal pay practices for a group of workers subjected to substandard wages,” said Ruben Rosalez, regional administrator for the Wage and Hour Division in the western U.S. “It is appalling that this was happening right in the heart of Silicon Valley, one of the wealthiest per capita areas in the U.S. The department remains vigilant in protecting the rights of vulnerable workers and to ensuring they are paid the wages they have rightfully earned. This case demonstrates our commitment to making that happen.”
Bloom caused much commotion in February 2010 when its concept Bloom Energy Server, or “Bloom Box,” attracted as much as $400 million in investments for the solid oxide fuel cell generators, which promised to slash carbon emissions and produce electricity as cheap as eight cents a kilowatt hour. Companies included eBay, Google and Bank of America ended up becoming clients, and Bloom along with CEO KR Sridhar were showcased on 60 Minutes. When local Bay Area news outlets contacted Bloom Energy for this story, however, the company refused to comment.
Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost). He will explore children’s health issues in India next month with the International Reporting Project.
[Image credit: Bloom Energy]