Labor Department: Solar Workers Laid Off by Import Surge Eligible for Aid

More than 300 solar employees laid off this summer following a recent surge of U.S. photovoltaic (PV) panel imports may be eligible for federal entitlement, including income support and allowances, the Department of Labor (DOL) has determined.

In petitions for Trade Adjustment Assistance filed with the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration by laid-off solar workers in 2016, Hillsboro, Oregon–based SolarWorld Americas said it was “struggling to remain competitive against subsidized and dumped price competition of products imported from China.”

In a statement on October 12, SolarWorld, the largest U.S. crystalline-silicon solar-technology manufacturer, lauded the DOL’s action. “The decision means that many of the impacted employees may be eligible to 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,” SolarWorld said.

The company also said that the determination further confirmed a unanimous finding made by the U.S. International Trade Commission on September 22 that PV cells being imported into the U.S. are causing “serious injury, or threat of serious injury, to the domestic industry.”

The ITC’s decision was made in a highly contested case filed by bankrupt solar panel manufacturer, Suniva, and SolarWorld, which recommended significant tariffs on all foreign-made modules. The ITC is now working to determine how to address the injury.

However, nearly every other company in the U.S. solar industry has rallied against SolarWorld and Suniva. The Solar Energy Industries Association and representatives from several major solar companies argue that the tariffs would cripple the U.S. solar industry.

The DOL’s  Trade Adjustment Assistance program, established by the Trade Act of 1974, provides assistance to workers who have lost, or may lose their jobs, as a result of foreign trade. The program essentially seeks to provide afflicted workers with income support, allowances, and opportunities to obtain skills and credentials to become re-employed.

During fiscal year 2016, an estimated 127,000 workers were covered by a certified petition for assistance, and 44% cited a shift in production to a foreign country as a basis of certification. About 19% cited a shift in services to a foreign country as a basis of certification.

About 66% of these workers were from the manufacturing sector, about 6% from “administrative and support and waste management and remediation services,” and 6% from “professional, scientific, and technical services.”

On October 12, Juergen Stein, CEO and president of SolarWorld Americas, said the company is grateful for the “federal aid” that would help its former workers regain employment footing.

He also added: “We also are heartened that yet another federal agency has confirmed our contention about the role of imports in those layoffs.”

 

—Sonal Patel is a POWER associate editor (@sonalcpatel, @POWERmagazine)