Solyndra's fired staff object to bonus payments

WILMINGTON, Delaware Tue Jan 17, 2012 5:01pm EST

A sign at the entrance to the headquarters of bankrupt Solyndra LLC is shown in Fremont, California September 20, 2011. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

A sign at the entrance to the headquarters of bankrupt Solyndra LLC is shown in Fremont, California September 20, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith

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WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) - Laid-off staff of Solyndra Llc, the bankrupt solar panel maker that owes more than $500 million to the U.S. government, are fighting the company's request to pay unnamed employees $500,000 in bonuses.

Solyndra asked for bankruptcy court approval for the payments earlier this month, saying the bonuses will ensure it can retain the 21 staff to complete tax filings and the sale of the company.

Tuesday is the deadline for bids for Solyndra from "turnkey" buyers who want to restart production, bring back some of the laid-off staff and keep the company operating.

The company has said a turnkey buyer is the best hope for getting the most money for the government and other creditors. However, court documents suggest that auctioneers, who have already been retained, will soon begin a piecemeal sale of the remaining production equipment and real estate.

Solyndra collapsed into bankruptcy in September, unable to compete with plummeting prices for solar panels. The company has been an ongoing political headache for President Barack Obama, who visited the company in 2010 to bolster his standing as a creator of renewable energy jobs.

Republican lawmakers are investigating possible favoritism in approving the government's $535 million loan to the company, which counted among its investors George Kaiser, an Obama fundraiser.

A spokesman for Kaiser has said he did not discuss with the government the loan to Solyndra.

The bonus request has been opposed by the roughly 1,000 staff who were laid off in August, when the company once championed by the Obama Administration abruptly halted production.

The laid-off workers argued that until Solyndra discloses who is receiving the payments the bonus request will appear "only to be in the best interests of senior management, the secured lenders and corporate insiders."

Solyndra's bankruptcy lawyer, Debra Grassgreen, did not return a call for comment.

In making its request for the bonus payments, Solyndra disclosed that seven of the 21 staff eligible for the bonus had received a raise since the company filed for bankruptcy. In the case of one unidentified senior director, the annual pay was increased 24 percent to $206,499. This person would be eligible for an added bonus of $50,000 once Solyndra's assets had been sold.

While Solyndra never broke even, the company paid out large bonuses in the months leading up to its bankruptcy, according to court records.

For example, in April and again in July, numerous executives received bonus payments of between $40,000 and $60,000, according to court documents.

As the clock ticks down to the late Tuesday deadline to find a turnkey buyer, court records suggest such a sale is unlikely.

Fee applications by the investment bankers and chief restructuring officer hired by Solyndra show they spent little time in discussions with potential bidders after the first turnkey deadline passed in mid-November.

The bankruptcy case is In re Solyndra Llc, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware, No. 11-12799

(Reporting By Tom Hals, editing by Matthew Lewis)

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