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Wage claims hit Eugene solar startup September 19, 2009

Filed under: Manufacturing,Oregon,Solar — nwrenewablenews @ 10:20 am
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Centron Solar, a solar panel startup in Eugene, recently paid the $1,111 wage claim filed in early August with the state by former intern Paul Hughes-Rod, who said the company had used him for unpaid labor, not as an intern.

Then, in late August, a second intern, Edward Hart, filed a $2,300 wage claim with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries, saying that he had been “unjustly taken advantage of” while serving as an unpaid intern and sales representative for Centron Solar. He said that he had “performed the duties of a paid professional under the guise of an internship.”

Centron Solar declines to comment about personnel issues, said Pat Walsh, a public relations consultant to the solar company.

Hart withdrew his wage complaint earlier this week, saying that under his agreement with Centron, he was due not an hourly wage, but rather a commission of 3 percent to 5 percent on any sales he closed or leads he generated that resulted in sales.

Hart told The Register-Guard on Friday that he plans to pursue legal action against Centron, based on his sales representative agreement.

In his Aug. 27 complaint with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries, Hart said that he worked for Centron an average of five hours a week from June 29 to July 29. He said his internship ended abruptly on July 29, and he was told that his sales leads had not generated any sales.

Hart came to Centron with a University of Oregon political science degree and eight years’ experience in airline ground operations.

Hart said he was told that the internship would lead to a full-time salaried position by the end of July or August.

Hart said he spent most of his internship corresponding with customers and potential customers and providing product and design specifications for various solar projects.

He said he also helped assemble a state-by-state database of customer contacts and of available clean energy subsidies, conducted research on North American Free Trade Association policy and other import-export matters, and drove a forklift in Centron’s warehouse.

“On a whim, we were just thrown so many new tasks. We were going so many different directions. We were literally slaving away for them,” he said.

Hart recalled being asked to research a solar project in French Polynesia. He said he was analyzing wind patterns and figuring out from what direction typhoons hit the island, so he could decide on racking and mounting systems for the solar modules.

“All of a sudden I’m a geologist and structural engineer, and I guess an electrical engineer,” Hart said. “There was no instruction. It was just, ‘Go do it.’ ”

The other unpaid intern, Hughes-Rod, said in his wage claim that during his unpaid internship from July 6 to July 29 he generated hundreds of sales leads, conducted research and marketing, set up PCs and installed software, and completed other work for the company.

Centron is a consortium of 30 Chinese solar companies, including solar panel manufacturers, Walsh said. Due to nondisclosure agreements, the company does not release the names of the companies. Centron officials have not disclosed how the company is financed.

Centron opened its office/warehouse in west Eugene in July, with a plan to sell bargain-priced solar panels in the United States. It has six employees in Eugene, consultants and partners working for the company in China, and 35 sales representatives throughout the United States, Walsh said.

The company is aiming to hire 300 people in Eugene in the next few years, he said.

Sherri Buri McDonald, The Register-Guard


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