Laid-off SolarWorld workers get federal aid

Workers at an Oregon solar manufacturing plant are eligible for federal assistance for displaced workers due to illegal trade from China that caused the plant’s shutdown.

The U.S. Department of Labor has determined that all manufacturing employees laid off from SolarWorld Industries America Inc. as a result of the company’s shutdown of its 35-year-old solar-panel production plant in Camarillo, Calif., in September are eligible for federal trade-adjustment assistance, including grants for education to retrain them for new work.

Labor’s ruling that Chinese imports helped cause the shutdown resulted from an investigation earlier this year by the department’s Office of Trade Adjustment Assistance. The decision was announced April 27 in the Federal Register.

The decision means that many of the 186 laid-off SolarWorld employees can tap 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.

The department may certify workers 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.

SolarWorld purchased the Camarillo plant in 2006 but consolidated its U.S. manufacturing in Hillsboro, Ore., blaming illegally subsidized and dumped solar products from China.

The closure of the Camarillo factory was one of 12 plant shutdowns, layoffs or bankruptcies within the U.S. crystalline silicon solar manufacturing industry since 2010. 

“We welcome the federal help that might ease the plight of our former factory workers in Camarillo,” said Gordon Brinser, president of SolarWorld Industries America Inc. “But it will neither make them whole nor offset the loss of their pioneering know-how to the world solar industry.

In the first major ruling in the trade cases, the U.S. International Trade Commission issued a unanimous preliminary ruling on Dec. 2 that Chinese trade practices were injuring the domestic manufacturing industry.  So far in its ongoing investigation, the Department of Commerce has determined 10 categories of Chinese subsidy programs to be illegal under U.S. and world trade law.