SolarWorld to lay off between 500 and 711 employees

Hillsboro facility may close

Hillsboro's SolarWorld facility, May 2017 (Hillsboro Tribune)
Hillsboro's SolarWorld facility, May 2017 (Hillsboro Tribune)

HILLSBORO, Ore. (HILLSBORO TRIBUNE) — SolarWorld Americas has released more specific information about just how many people it plans to lay off from its Hillsboro manufacturing plant.

And the numbers aren’t good.

In a letter to the state released late Thursday, SolarWorld announced that it plans to lay off between 500 and 711 employees at its Hillsboro facility, and possibly close its Hillsboro facility altogether. The layoffs will begin July 18.

“This notice is based on the best information available to us as of the date of this letter,” SolarWorld’s Human Resources Director Bettina Davis wrote in her letter to the state.

The letter, which was dated May 19, includes are breakdown of the layoffs, including more than 160 positions within the company, including its director of operations, director of human resources and nearly 390 production operators.

The letter was filed with the state under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, which requires companies to disclose major layoffs 60 days ahead of time.

Thursday’s letter comes amid turmoil for the solar panel manufacturer, after SolarWorld’s parent company, SolarWorld AG, filed for insolvency in Germany on May 10. SolarWorld Americas initially said that it would continue to operate ‘as usual’ but said last week that large layoffs would take place.

SolarWorld has said for years that its troubles have stemmed from Chinese trade abuses in U.S. markets.

The letter was released the same day that SolarWorld joined a trade complaint with the U.S. International Trade Commission hoping to impose sanctions on China for allegedly flooding the U.S. market with cheap products.

The case was filed last month by Georgia-based SolarWorld competitor Suniva, which filed for bankruptcy this year. A decision in that case isn’t expected for several months.

SolarWorld moved to its Hillsboro facility, located at 25300 Evergreen Road, in 2008, becoming the largest solar-wafer factory in the United States. The company expanded its Hillsboro staff, bursting to more than 1,000 employees.

SolarWorld and China have had a bitter relationship for years. In 2011, the company announced that it was preparing a U.S. trade complaint, arguing that Chinese competitors were flooding the market with cheap solar panels, cutting into the company’s market.

Then-President Barack Obama called Chinese trade practices “questionable” and said that the U.S. would be more aggressive with enforcing trade laws.

“We have filed actions against [the Chinese] when we see these kinds of dumping activities, and we’re going to look very carefully at this stuff and potentially bring actions if we find that the basic rules of the road have been violated,” Obama told KGW NewsChannel 8 in 2011.

The International Trade Commission agreed that Chinese trade practices were harming U.S. manufacturers, and the Obama administration called for 250 percent tariffs on Chinese solar panels.

SolarWorld cut 10 percent of its employee’s across the globe in 2012, blaming the move on Chinese trade practices.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice filed criminal charges against five Chinese government officials after they allegedly hacked into SolarWorld’s computers and stole emails and files from company executives.

SolarWorld has said that the computers were hacked a dozen times. The emails contained information about the company’s finances, production capabilities, cost structure and strategices, according to the company.

SolarWorld spokesman Ben Santarris said that all of the executives hacked were involved in the 2011 case.

“The SolarWorld personnel who were targeted by the cyberspying all had the common denominator that they were associated in some way with the trade cases,” Santarris said at the time. “And it happened in the middle of the trade cases.”

The Hillsboro Tribune is a KOIN media partner.