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Panasonic Solar North America's operating profit was "not good," president tells employees

Posted at 9:41 AM, Feb 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-27 09:41:37-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — During a staff meeting at the Riverbend plant Wednesday morning, Panasonic Solar North America President Mark Shima announced what published reports had already indicated: all 400 Panasonic employees at the South Buffalo solar production plant would be losing their jobs at the end of May.

"This is a really tough announcement but I'd like to express my sincere gratitude to all of you," Shima told the employees.

7 Eyewitness News obtained audio of the meeting, in which Shima explains why Panasonic is shutting down and what this means for staff at the facility co-located with Tesla.

"We have been dealing with both unpredictable demand and a competitive business environment," Shima said. "Despite your continued efforts and contributions, [Panasonic Solar North America's] operating profit is not good."

7 Eyewitness News reached out to a company spokesman seeking clarification, but was not given an answer.

Employees were issued a formal notice of the termination of their employment, which leaves very little to the imagination about the company's solar production future in Buffalo: "This closure is expected to be permanent."

"We had absolutely no warning," the spouse of one employee told 7 Eyewitness News on the condition of anonymity.

Later in the meeting, a human resources executive took the microphone to explain the wind-down effort and the company's commitment to help employees work through the unemployment and re-employment processes.

As was publicly announced, the company will hold job fairs featuring local companies and Tesla, which must fill 1,500 jobs as part of its $750 million agreement with New York State.

Earlier this week, state development chief Howard Zemsky said Tesla told him it has "more than 1,500 jobs in Buffalo," and Mayor Byron Brown has since stated that Tesla said it has met the hiring requirement.

It's unclear how many of the jobs at Tesla are full time versus temporary contract work. In Panasonic's staff meeting on Wednesday, temporary employees were told they will be automatically transferred over to Tesla when Panasonic ceases operations on May 31st.