Labor Deparment finds SolarWorld employees eligible for benefits

Say what you want about SolarWorld’s decision to join bankrupt Suniva’s trade action, they have worked overtime to take care of the employees they’ve laid off at their manufacturing facility in Hillsoboro, Oregon.

The most recent evidence of the company’s efforts to help is the motion it filed with the U.S. Department of Labor seeking trade-adjustment assistance for the more than 300 employees laid off this summer – a slate of benefits above and beyond the benefits to what the employees are already entitled.

Last week, after an investigation by the department’s Office of Trade Adjustment Assistance, SolarWorld’s request was granted, meaning its former employees are now eligible for federal assistance with:

  • federal assistance with job placement;
  • expenses for job searches,
  • relocation and retraining;
  • income support during full-time retraining; and
  • a tax credit on health-insurance premiums.

“We are grateful for the federal aid that will help our former workers regain their employment footing,” said Juergen Stein, CEO and president of SolarWorld Americas. “We also are heartened that yet another federal agency has confirmed our contention about the role of imports in those layoffs.”

According to the company’s release announcing Labor’s decision, “U.S. law dictates that the Labor Department may certify workers adversely impacted by imports for trade-adjustment assistance only if it finds that an increase in competing imports ‘contributed importantly’ to the decline in sales or production of a firm and to the cause for worker layoffs.

In its Section 201 trade complaint, SolarWorld (which signed on to a complaint initially filed by bankrupt module manufacturer Suniva) argued that international imports have harmed its module manufacturing business. On, September 22, the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) sided with Suniva and SolarWorld in finding that imports have done “serious injury” to the domestic industry.

Now the USITC is considering what remedies it should recommend President Donald J. Trump to impose on foreign imports. Trump has signaled an interest in taking trade action against foreign imports, even those of our closest allies, and most knowledgeable industry observers believe tariffs will be imposed. The only question is how harsh will they be.

Critics of the trade complaint, most notably the Solar Energy Industries Association, have contended it was bad business decisions by Suniva and SolarWorld that have led to their financial struggles, not imports.

Update: This article was updated at 5:06 pm on 10/16/17 to remove a reference questioning whether Suniva had applied for similar benefits for its workers, which it had. The author regrets the error.

For a history of how the last 18 months have gone for SolarWorld, check out the following stories:

SolarWorld Americas to (re-)hire up to 200 workers

SolarWorld Americas is up for sale

SolarWorld files for insolvency

SolarWorld to miss 2016 forecasts