REC lays off 26 or about 9 percent of Butte workforce

2013-11-07T00:00:00Z 2014-02-21T10:31:57Z REC lays off 26 or about 9 percent of Butte workforce Montana Standard

Renewable Energy Corp., which employs 294 people at its plant southwest of Butte, laid off 26 local employees Wednesday.

It is part of a company-wide workforce reduction of 60 employees, which includes sister plants in Houston, Texas, and Moses Lake, Wash. The company blamed market weakness and an ongoing complex trade war between the United States and China for the layoffs.

The Butte plant employees were not given notice, Rich Green, REC director of operations, told The Montana Standard Wednesday afternoon. The layoffs went into effect immediately.

“We gave every employee a severance package that is not required, plus two months of COBRA insurance package,” said Green. “We’re very sympathetic to this. It was a very difficult decision for us. We tried to set people up for some time to go out and look for work. I know it’s tough in this economy.”

Positions were cut in a variety of departments, including polysilicon production, silane (gas) loading, maintenance, product handling, sales, administrative and general areas, said Green. Sales, administrative and general departments serve as overall support for the entire plant.

Employees cut included a few polysilicon engineering positions, but Green would not say how many. He estimated that REC employs about 30 engineers.

The Norway-based corporation makes solar and silicon products for the solar grade and electronic grade polysilicon commodity markets.

The Butte plant, located five miles southwest of town, makes polysilicon and silane gases for the electronics market. Silane gases are used in semiconductor, flat screen displays and thin-film technologies.

In a posting on its website, the company attributed the work force reduction, in part, to continued market weaknesses.

“The reduction in the work force is the result of very weak electronics, silicon and solar markets,” said Green. “All the polysilicon markets are very weak right now. To me, it’s the natural economics of the world economy. When the economies of the world aren’t doing well, the electronic industry isn’t doing well.”

The loss of 26 REC jobs comes on top of recent Denny’s Restaurant and 4-B’s Restaurant closures in Butte.

“This is never good news for the community when one of your major employers has to lay off people,” said Jim Smitham, Butte Local Development Corp. director.

“In this instance, it’s 26 people who live in our community and who buy products in our community, so those jobs will be missed,” Smitham added. “It will definitely have a ripple effect. You hope that they can find work in the community and stay here.”

The statement on the company website also attributed the layoffs to “continued uncertainty from the prolonged solar trade war between the United States and China.”

An ongoing complex trade war between the United States and China, which imposed a 57 percent tariff on polysilicon imports – mostly on products made in Butte and Moses Lake – is partly to blame. China retaliated with the tariff after the U.S. placed an initial duty on silicon exports. Solar panels are one of many products made of polysilicon.

“We’re working closely with the U.S. government and our U.S. representatives to try to get a resolution to this,” said Green.

Meanwhile, although work will be spread out among the remaining employees, steady production will continue, Green said.

“We plan to run our plants full out,” Green added. “We’ve just had to reduce costs to maintain competitiveness.”

“Hopefully, the U.S. government will get it rectified and back on a level playing field so REC cannot feel the effects of an international trade war,” said Smitham.

Despite the sudden loss of jobs, Smitham remains optimistic.

“We hope that they get this international trade war squared away so the market can get turned around and these jobs can get reinstated,” said Smitham.

REC started in 1996 in Norway. Last August, when the Norway headquarters split its solar and silicon divisions into two independent-listed companies, Bloomberg reported REC’s value at $133.3 million.

“This decision wasn’t taken likely,” Green said of the sudden layoffs. “But it was necessary in order to maintain competitiveness in uncertain periods. We’ve had to reduce costs in order to maintain competitiveness.”

— Reach reporter Renata Birkenbuel at and (406) 496-5512.

Copyright 2015 Montana Standard. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(20) Comments

  1. icesk8er
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    icesk8er - November 14, 2013 11:40 am
    Dont blame the union... probably cant pay the health insurance for them.
  2. icesk8er
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    icesk8er - November 14, 2013 11:17 am
    Well said! But god forbid we do that! We'd rather complain about it...
  3. Butte-boy
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    Butte-boy - November 12, 2013 7:12 pm
    Butte residents you have an opportunity to be in favor of the proposed gold mine in the highlands that will create all kinds of jobs for Butte folks. Why don't you get out and support this project and bring real paying jobs to your area. Make something happen get your voice out and support these new potential good paying jobs!
  4. Drifter
    Report Abuse
    Drifter - November 10, 2013 3:36 pm
    There is no evidence of that. Please read the other comments here.
  5. dillinger
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    dillinger - November 09, 2013 10:48 pm
    I agree with all statements in the forum Mr. Allen Juana Restore Zubie everyones entitled. As far as REC is concerned Mr. Green has the unheralded distinction of having a work group move to into collective bargaining because of his non management skills. This is out of a minimum of 6 predesessors that came before him in the "Director of Operations/Plant manager role" his role in the layoffs were to get his HR team together which is half Anaconda half Butte and go through and pick the fate of these 26 people...Mr. Green should have restructured his top heavy management team and support services to save 3/4 of the ill fated employees that got there notices. The Chinese vs. USA is a farce... REC is owned by a publically traded Norwegian company (i think we all knew that) the war is with china and the Eurpoean Union not the USA, we (REC) are collateral damage in there fight. Basically Richard Green should have to get the walk to the turnstile not the hourly employees.
  6. Big Ralph
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    Big Ralph - November 09, 2013 12:26 pm
    100 years ago my Great Grandfather was part owner of Smelter in Butte.His men worked long dangerous day for pennies.I am sorry that all the benefits the working man fought for has led to no jobs for the working man.Everything to the lowest bidder today.I will always admire The BUTTE WORKING MEN AND WOMEN,the hardest workers in the world!
  7. Restore_the_Republic
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    Restore_the_Republic - November 09, 2013 10:41 am
    This just in: your union is creating a conflict of interest at REC. What don't you understand about that? Go and find a job in private enterprise where management admires unions. Let me know how that works out for you.
  8. Restore_the_Republic
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    Restore_the_Republic - November 09, 2013 10:38 am
    Yes, thanks to the IBEW.
  9. Restore_the_Republic
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    Restore_the_Republic - November 09, 2013 10:37 am
    And the first thing union bosses do to "maintain" their desired level of profitability is recruit more union members. These unions cost corporations money; they directly affect their profitability in a negative way. Thank goodness union membership is at an all time low. Maybe our country is starting to learn something.
  10. Restore_the_Republic
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    Restore_the_Republic - November 09, 2013 10:32 am
    I ask the same question: what has IBEW 233 done to help contribute to REC Silicon's profitability? As soon as an person joins a union and the private-enterprise employers knows it, there is an immediate conflict of interest. My best advice for you youngsters out there looking for work: Don't join a union. If you happen to get a job at a good company like REC, work your butt off and prove yourself to management. Depend on yourself and your work ethic to move up the ladder. Don't depend on a union to keep you safe, because as this article points out, they are a fallacy. They are a special interest that has no place in today's economy. They are not a safety net. Rather, they are a hindrance to the free market.
  11. KeithAllen
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    KeithAllen - November 09, 2013 8:07 am
    Federal law requires a Union to represent it's members. It remains and always has been the responsibility of the employer for it's own profitability. With that being said most Unions, which represent the employees and are run by the employees, are always willing to help their employer through hard times. These hard times are never caused by the employees. There are typically outside factors that affect companies and the employees aren't in charge of running the company - that's the job of management.

    In this case, REC Silicon has recently lost a large customer that was on a long time contract. From our perspective, it doesn't appear the company had tried too hard or planned accordingly for this loss of revenue. That is certainly not the fault of IBEW 233 maintenance employees, nor is it their job to sell solar/silane gas contracts for REC Silicon.

    Some of the things we have offered REC Silicon during negotiations that most common sense people would think are meant to help a company are:
    1. No strike/no lockout language which most of our Collective Bargaining Agreements contain. REC Silicon continues to reject this.
    2. If job reductions need to occur, we would meet in advance and negotiate job sharing programs to reduce job losses and these always help the company out financially as long as you think employees losing money/jobs helps companies economically. REC Silicon continues to reject this.
    3. If a plant closure happens we meet in advance of what Federal/State law requires and come up with ways to help prevent it. REC Silicon continues to reject this.
    4. We have discussed health insurance plans. There is a possibility if REC Silicon joined our five-state health insurance plan they might save money. The employees would also have less money out of their pockets. The offer is certainly available if it would work, but in defense of REC Silicon this was discussed only yesterday and there have been no cost comparisons yet.
    5. We've also helped politically by using our clout where we could with the solar tariff war the USA and China are currently in. Senator Tester and his staff are diligently working on this. Can't say the same of Shutdown Steve Daines.

    These are only examples of four ideas we've offered but you need to understand it is the employees Unions are required to represent - not the company. However, most Unions will help the company every chance they can because it's ultimately about their members.
  12. MThiker
    Report Abuse
    MThiker - November 08, 2013 11:42 pm
    I see Keith Allen is working overtime on all fronts to distance IBEW 233 from any problems at REC Silicon. Okay I will play along. My question is what has IBEW 233 done to help contribute to REC Silicon's profitability? Yeah I thought so!
  13. zubie41
    Report Abuse
    zubie41 - November 08, 2013 12:55 pm
    The first thing corporations do to "maintain" the desired level of profitability is to cut staff. I say again: corporate profits are at an all time high, union membership at an all time low.
  14. Drifter
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    Drifter - November 07, 2013 3:32 pm
    Another sad turn for the economy of our community.
  15. KeithAllen
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    KeithAllen - November 07, 2013 11:33 am
    A slight correction - The maintenance employees are the group that voted to go Union.
  16. juanajob
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    juanajob - November 07, 2013 11:32 am
    Good response
  17. KeithAllen
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    KeithAllen - November 07, 2013 11:11 am
    They voted to be represented by IBEW 233 in March 2013. We are still in negotiations for their first collective bargaining agreement. This means the company is still running exactly as they were prior to the Union election. Your argument is invalid and uninformed. Remember when REC announced a company split a couple months ago and they said there would be no layoffs or changes for the Butte employees? Imagine a company going back on it's word.... First time ever, right? This has nothing to do with employees voting to be Union as there are layoffs at the other three plants that are all non-union.
    You have a good day and try to become informed.
    Keith Allen
    Business Manager
    IBEW 233
  18. juanajob
    Report Abuse
    juanajob - November 07, 2013 11:10 am
    Over reaction mike. ?
    Minimum wages jobs are easy to find but fifty dollar an hour are tough to replace. Maybe the county will hire these folks
  19. mttrailboss01
    Report Abuse
    mttrailboss01 - November 07, 2013 10:57 am
    Sad story for all.. Renewable Energy Corp. (REC) lays off 26 employees'.. On average, if the three businesses or companies lay off 25 employees' each, that's 75 jobs and income. With REC, Denny's and the 4 B's, that's 75 employees' without job and income. On (average) if each employee makes $25,000 per year, that's $1,875,000.00 loss income in the Butte economy. With Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, and a almost $2 million dollar lost in Butte economy, is really going to hurt everyone. With Butte's population and a almost $2 million dollar hit on the economy or loss, the ripple effect will become worse for business owners and their employees' within Butte. Truly.., a sad story for all. Let's help these employees' that have lost their jobs and income and try to make the holidays a little bit brighter. With sadness.. Mike in historic Butte, Montana :(
  20. juanajob
    Report Abuse
    juanajob - November 07, 2013 10:57 am
    They went union this august 2013. No wonder.

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