SUNNYVALE -- A prominent Silicon Valley clean-energy startup has been ordered to pay back wages and penalties for bringing in workers from Mexico and paying them about $2.66 an hour in pesos, the U.S. Department of Labor announced Tuesday.

Sunnyvale-based Bloom Energy, which makes fuel cells and sells energy to clients including AT&T, Adobe, Coca-Cola, eBay, Google and Wal-Mart, was ordered by a judge to pay $31,922 in back wages and an equal amount in damages to 14 welders who were brought in to work alongside domestic workers refurbishing power generators.

It followed a federal investigation that inspected records from Nov. 21, 2010, to Nov. 20, 2012, according to labor officials.

"This investigation has remedied illegal pay practices for a group of workers subjected to substandard wages," stated Ruben Rosalez, a Labor Department administrator for the region's Wage and Hour Division in a news release. "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."

Bloom representatives could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

Labor Department spokeswoman Deanne Amaden said they generally don't divulge how such cases come to light, but said they sometimes receive information from a co-worker, a third party, an advocacy group, or local authorities who see something that "doesn't look right."


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Bloom was also fined $6,160 in civil penalties because of the "willful nature of the violations found," labor officials said. The company also was prohibited from moving products made by affected workers across state lines until violations were resolved.

The company has since paid the back wages, damages and penalties in full and agreed to comply with Fair Labor Standards Act requirements in the future, according to the Labor Department.

Jared Belnap takes a closer tool at the set  of  Bloom Energy Servers at Ebay headquarters in San Jose Wednesday February 24, 2010.
Jared Belnap takes a closer tool at the set of Bloom Energy Servers at Ebay headquarters in San Jose Wednesday February 24, 2010. (Pauline Lubens)

Amaden said the workers in question, who hailed from Chihuahua, Mexico, were paid on average $137 a week for working nearly 52 hours. She said immigration status in such cases is not a factor taken into consideration.

"The law does not require us to look at it that way," she said.

Bloom makes servers known as "Bloom Boxes" that utilize solid oxide fuel cell technology to generate electricity through a chemical process instead of combustion. The company, with a declared mission to make clean, reliable and affordable energy available for everyone on earth, underwent significant expansion last year in Sunnyvale as well as launching a new facility in Delaware.

Contact Eric Kurhi at 408-920-5852. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.