REC Silicon plant

Pictured in this file photo are reactors at the Butte REC Silicon plant. The plant produces high grade polysilcon used in the manufacture of computer components and photovoltaic products. Five are being laid off from the Butte plant Monday.

Five people are being laid off from the Butte REC Silicon plant Monday while 100 workers at the Moses Lake, Washington, plant are losing their jobs, said one company official.

Francine Sullivan, REC Silicon vice president of business development, said Monday that the average pay of the workers being laid off is $100,000.

In Moses Lake, the company is cutting back its production of solar panels to about 25 percent of capacity.

The Norway-based company blames the U.S. and China tariff war on solar products. The Butte plant primarily produces polysilicon for the electronics market and the Moses Lake plant produces polysilicon for the solar panel market.

The company has been losing profit and employees since the trade war with China began in 2014 under President Barack Obama. But the trade dispute has continued under President Donald Trump. Earlier this year workers from both facilities signed a letter that the company sent to Trump, asking him to end the trade war.

Sullivan said there has been no action.

The company posted a decline in first quarter revenues for 2018 at $69.6 million, down from $78 million in the previous quarter.

But Sullivan said the big-picture revenue decline is worse than that because before the trade war, REC Silicon was a billion-dollar company. The decline is also affecting highly skilled labor with well-paying jobs, she said.

She said that the company is not likely to move its plants elsewhere but they may have to move the technology elsewhere if they continue to lose profit and workers.

"We have to salvage what we can of our current investments," Sullivan said.

The Moses Lake plant has been hit harder than the Butte plant, which is located in the Montana Connections Business Park west of Butte. But the Butte plant lost about 30 employees last fall.

Earlier this year, Sen. Steve Daines visited China as part of a congressional delegation, but the visit had no effect on the trade war.

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Nat'l Resources / General Reporter

Environmental and natural resources reporter for the Montana Standard.

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