Workers at LG Chem, a $300 million lithium-ion battery plant heavily funded by taxpayers, tell Target 8 that they have so little work to do that they spend hours playing cards and board games, reading magazines or watching movies. They say it’s been going on for months….
“There would be up to 40 of us that would just sit in there during the day,” said former LG Chem employee Nicole Merryman, who said she quit in May.
“We were given assignments to go outside and clean; if we weren’t cleaning outside, we were cleaning inside. If there was nothing for us to do, we would study in the cafeteria, or we would sit and play cards, sit and read magazines,” said Merryman. “It’s really sad that all these people are sitting there and doing nothing, and it’s basically on taxpayer money.”
Two current employees told Target 8 that the game-playing continues because, as much as they want to work, they still have nothing to do.
“There’s a whole bunch of people, a whole bunch,” filling their time with card games and board games,” one of those current employees said.
That employee says some workers are doing odd jobs around the building, including cleaning and maintenance, while others hang out in the cafeteria playing video games, Texas hold-’em and Monopoly or doing Sudoku or crossword puzzles — all on company time. The employee said some watch movies.
“There’s no work, no work at all. Zero work,” another current employee said. “It is what it is. What do you do when there’s no work?”
They told Target 8 they didn’t want to talk on camera or be identified because workers signed a confidentiality agreement.
Randy Boileau, a Holland-based public relations specialist who was spokesman for LG Chem , says he no longer represents the company.
Target 8 left a message at the plant’s security station and left a message with the company’s receptionist. The receptionist would not transfer the call to a company manager.
The Target 8 investigation has led the Washington, D.C.-based Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board – an oversight agency for the federal stimulus program — to take action.
“We are sending this to the Inspector General, Department of Energy, for his review,” said Ed Pound, spokesman for the board. The Inspector General’s Office would decide whether to open an investigation. Pound refused further comment.
Some workers at the Holland plant have quit or are looking for jobs. Others have started helping local non-profits on company time.
“I thought it might be a decent place to start a career, lots of places to move up,” said one former employee, who left the job this summer.
“You can only do nothing for so long. There were days, sitting around all day doing nothing. … I didn’t play a whole lot of cards,” said the worker, who added, “I bailed out of a sinking ship.”
Those left behind are on furlough – one week off without pay every four weeks.
The plant all started with such great hope, and a presidential groundbreaking in July 2010.
“This is a symbol of where Michigan is going, this is a symbol of where Holland is going, and this is a symbol of where America’s going,” Pres. Barack Obama told a crowd at the groundbreaking.
Nicole Merryman was among the first in line for a job.
“It was something exciting, and I thought it would be better for the family, more overtime, more money,” said Merryman, who said she worked on a line that folded the battery cells.
The company’s goal: 300 employees pumping out 15 million battery cells a year. Its biggest customer: The Chevrolet Volt.
The U.S. Department of Energy provided a $151 million grant, part of Obama’s Recovery Act.
The Korea-based company recently said it has 200 employees, and the company’s most recent federal filing shows 100 of them are funded through the Recovery Act grant.
The company has spent $133 million so far, most for construction and equipment, records show. About 40% has gone to foreign companies — mostly to Korea, a Target 8 analysis shows.
The company also spent more than $533,000 of that federal grant for the groundbreaking, records show.
A Target 8 analysis of federal records shows taxpayers spent $7 million to train workers and have paid more than $700,000 for workers’ health and dental insurance.
There’s millions of dollars more at stake for LG Chem if it doesn’t keep hiring, or if its job numbers fall. The state approved a $25.2 million job-creation state tax credit over 15 years, and a battery cell state tax credit worth $100 million over 4 years. Both are tied to job creation.
LG Chem has yet to file claims for that money, state officials said.
The City of Holland created a Renewable Energy Renaissance Zone, allowing LG Chem to operate free of property taxes for 15 years — if it reaches 300 employees within 5 years. That’s another $48.5 million.
The city expected the plant’s payroll to pump $270 million into the local economy over 15 years, and to create up to 1,500 spin-off