ROSSFORD — An alleged labor immigration violation by First Solar has been reported to the Department of Labor by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 8 and investigations of the new First Solar construction project at plant number three in Lake Township are being requested.
The allegations were reported by Joshua Abernathy, a spokesperson and business agent for Local 8.
“I represent the electrical workers employed by Rudolph Libbe’s subcontractor, GEM Industrial. I visited the job site and observed approximately 100 foreign nationals performing work typically performed by American workers in the building and construction trades industry,” Abernathy said.
Rudolph Libbe is the general contractor for the site, but not listed as the company or entity committing the alleged violation. The company listed as committing the alleged violation is First Solar, with the nonimmigrant workers possibly placed with three different businesses: TERA, Grenzebach and/or GPSI.
First Solar’s Chief Manufacturing Operations Officer Mike Koralewski said there have been no violations.
“The work conducted at our new Ohio facility is in accordance with the National Maintenance Agreement and contracts signed with individual vendors,” he said in a statement.
Abernathy said that the impact is felt by the electricians in lost wages, retirement and health care and lost tax revenue to the local communities, state and federal government.
“It’s not a trained quality workforce being brought in to displace American workers,” Abernathy said.
The complaint was received by the Department of Labor on Aug. 3, detailing 14 alleged violations Abernathy witnessed related to possible H-1B/H-2B visa abuse at First Solar PGT3, located at 28380 Tracy Road. The plant is scheduled to open early in 2023.
Among the violations are: failing to pay the prevailing wage and fringe benefits, that U.S. workers were displaced and that U.S. workers with higher qualifications and skill levels were displaced by foreign workers.
Also listed in the complaint against First Solar are subcontractors TERA, GPSI and the Grenzebach Group.
“At one time, Gem Industrial peaked at approximately 150 electrical workers on site. When the foreign workers showed up to work, on work never assigned to Gem or any other local contractor, Gem started to lay off (U.S. workers) and is now down to less than 30 employees doing electrical work,” Abernathy said In a followup interview. “That portion of the work was never going to be an American job. Gem was never given any of the work.”
In the complaint, Abernathy wrote that he observed approximately 100 foreign workers performing the work at First Solar plant off Ohio 795 that is currently under construction.
“Working at a pace of 10-hour days, six days a week, for nine months plus, totals over 266,000 man-hours lost and some $18.5 million in lost wages that would have been appropriately taxed for federal state and local income taxes,” Abernathy said.
The IBEW list of work performed by foreign laborers includes: wiring involved for the install of assembly line and associated conveyors, the offloading, locating, staging, tracking and installation of material, setting of motor control cabinets, raceways, and wiring routed between control cabinets and field devices on equipment, installation of task lighting and indicator lights, the mounting of field devices and electric motors and terminations of all control and power for motors devices and cabinets. All of the listed work is considered by the union to be standard industrial electrical work regularly performed by members of the local union.
There are also potential safety issues involved, he said.
Abernathy said that the controls being installed by the foreign workers “include the limits and emergency stops that protect the line workers operating in close proximity to the equipment.”
First Solar was asked to comment on the allegations reported to the Department of Labor.
Koralewski said that First Solar’s manufacturing equipment suppliers are required to provide personnel to each site in order to install, maintain and troubleshoot machine performance.
“First Solar requires each of these suppliers to comply with all regulations applicable to their employees,” he said in the statement. “It must also be pointed out that the facility, which is expected to be commissioned in the first half of next year, is the product of over half-a-million hours of work performed by union tradespeople.
“First Solar is investing billions of dollars in American manufacturing, which is expected to make us the largest employer in the U.S. solar manufacturing sector with over 3,000 direct employees in four states, while indirectly supporting over 18,000 jobs across the country by 2025,” Koralewski wrote.
The union has asked for additional assistance in the investigation from state and local officials, including U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo. The office of U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has provided assistance in filing the complaint.