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Tech company forced to repay Mexican workers after getting caught paying them in pesos

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A California tech firm that boasts Gen. Colin Powell as a board member was ordered to pay more than $60,000 in back wages and penalties after the U.S. Department of Labor found it had paid a group of tech workers from Mexico less than $3 an hour in pesos for two years.

KNTV-TV reported on Monday that Bloom Energy contracted the 14 Mexican nationals and paid them equivalent of $2.66 an hour to work on the company’s generators between November 2010 and November 2012. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour.

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A U.S. District Court judge ordered the company to pay the group $31,922 in both back wages and damages. Bloom Energy was also fined another $6,160 in damages by the U.S. Labor Department.

Labor Department investigator Linda Blanco said the workers were surprised “because they felt that they didn’t have any protection in the United States.”

The group, which was brought in on visitor visas, had its paychecks deposited to bank accounts in Mexico and was also given a $50 per diem for food, with the stipulation that any money left over had to be returned at the end of the day.

Powell is listed as an “independent board member” for Bloom, which made waves two years ago when it unveiled its “Bloom Box,” a fuel cell device early reviews painted as a “game-changer” in its ability to turn natural gas into electricity without combustion. The company’s Chief Financial Officer, Bill Kurtz, told the technology website The Verge last August that it was “halfway there” on making the technology profitable.

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Watch KNTV’s report on Bloom Energy stiffing its employees, aired Monday, below.

[Image by Christian Lagerek via Shutterstock]

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