Nine people have sued Wacker Chemie, claiming the company that's building a new plant in Bradley County made false or deceptive representations when it failed to put them to work after they had trained for the slots.
Court papers said they went through extensive training at the Wacker Institute at Chattanooga State Community College, but were left without work after the company delayed the opening date of the plant by at least 18 months.
They are seeking damages from the German polysilicon maker for lost wages and training costs.
Wacker said in a statement that it was "unable to begin employment of the students at the present time" due to the delayed opening.
"Nonetheless, we remain confident that the skills and education these students gained during their advanced technical training at Chattanooga State Community College will be of future value and can benefit them greatly, whether they ultimately join the Wacker team, or whether their careers take them elsewhere," the statement said.
Bill Toth, director of corporate communications, said Friday that some Wacker employees are working at the plant site near Charleston, Tenn., but he didn't know how many.
He said the plant is scheduled to open in mid-2015, but he declined further comment, citing the litigation filed in Bradley County.
Wacker began construction work in early April 2011 on the $2 billion plant that's to produce polysilicon used to harness the power of the sun on solar panels. The plant is scheduled to employ 650 workers when production begins.
But last year, the company announced that production would be delayed about 18 months. Wacker blamed changing solar market conditions and current over-capacities for polysilicon for the delay.
However, some trainees who thought they were going to work for the company were left without jobs due to the schedule change.
James Loemker said he attended an information seminar concerning the Wacker Institute, which is joint training venture between the company and Chattanooga State.
After taking part in the program, he was told by a Wacker employee that "if the grades were good, they would be guaranteed an interview and if you got an interview you would have to be the worst-ever interviewed not to get a job offer," the suit said. "He mentioned more than once that he needed 500 and something employees to get the plant started in January 2013," according to the suit filed by attorneys Pamela O'Dwyer and John Chandler Jr.
The suit stated Loemker said that meeting pushed him to quit his job and go into the Wacker program fulltime. It said that Loemker later was provided with a written offer of employment as a chemical operator with a starting wage of $19 per hour on the first day of employment, which was scheduled for April 1, 2013.
However, on Oct. 25, 2012, he received a personnel announcement that the job offer would be deferred until the second half of 2014, the suit said.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, who was at Chattanooga State on Friday for a grant announcement, said he believes Wacker will eventually get into production. But he said the state needs to be certain about projects when it provides state money to companies for training and incentives.
A key competitor of Wacker, Hemlock Semiconductor, laid off three-fourths of its employees in Clarksville, Tenn., shortly before the planned start of production at its new $1.2 billion polysilicon plant earlier this year. The state of Tennesee provided $6.4 million for Austin Peay State University to develop a chemical engineering program at the Hemlock Semiconductor Building on its campus.
Hemlock is yet to begin production at the new Charleston solar facility, which originally was supposed to create 500 jobs.
Wacker said in a statement on Friday that it remains committed to its $2 billion investment in Bradley County "and our employment goals to support economic growth in the region through construction and operation of our facility."
"Wacker has always been a flexible, market-oriented company, and in this instance, we had to adjust our construction timeline and our growth strategy due to the prevailing global economic and market conditions facing the polysilicon industry," the company said.
Contact Mike Pare at email@example.com or 423-757-6318.