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SolarWorld will ax 100 workers

SolarWorld has notified the state of Oregon that it intends to lay off approximately 100 employees at its Hillsboro manufacturing plant.

Ben Santarris, the company’s head of public relations, said the layoffs are the final phase of an operational restructuring plan that began in February. Santarris added that the company expects to employ around 600 workers at the plant after the restructuring is complete.

SolarWorld, which is based in Germany, is also altering its operations. Santarris said the company expects to complete its financial restructuring late this year or early next year.

The company is also suspending production of crystals and wafers at the Hillsboro plant on Northwest Evergreen Road, and will instead acquire them from one of its facilities in Germany.

According to Santarris, both restructuring plans are in response to what he terms “illegal” competition from Chinese manufacturers selling solar products below cost in the United States and Europe.

“The price of solar products has continued to fall as the result of illegal Chinese dumping. We are having to restructure our operations and financing as a result,” said Santarris.

The U.S. Department of Commerce has upheld a trade complaint against the Chinese manufacturers filed by SolarWorld and others. Although the federal government has imposed tariffs on the Chinese manufacturers, Santarris said they have not completely stopped the import of the government-subdized Chinese products.

“They have slowed down, but not as much as the prices have continued to drop,” said Santarris.

SolarWorld notified the Oregon Department of Community Colleges and Workforce Development about the layoffs on July 2. The notification is required by the federal Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act. According to the notice, the layoffs are expected to occur on or about Aug. 31.

“This employment action may result in the termination of approximately 100 workers (regular employees and temporary workers) at the company facility. This employment action is expected to be permanent. The affected employees and individuals are not members of a collective bargaining unit and, accordingly, do not have bumping rights,” reads an excerpt of the notification.

The notice was sent around the same time SolarWorld released a report documenting its contribution to the local, state and national economy.

According to the report, at this time, SolarWorld employs around 700 people at its Hillsboro manufacturing plant and dozens more at a smaller office in Camarillo, Calif. Average annual compensation for permanent, full-time SolarWorld employees exceeds the national average.

The report also noted that the company purchased more than $240 million in goods and services from other manufacturers and employers in 46 states in 2012. Oregon was the largest state with $71 million in purchases, followed by Washington at $45 million, California at $43 million, Pennsylvania at $18.7 million and Minnesota at $18.6 million.

“Economists have long viewed American manufacturers as particularly potent catalysts of U.S. economic growth,” said Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc. in Hillsboro. “They also recognize the intimate tie between manufacturing and innovation — and the related spinoff business and academic development.”

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