Tuesday, January 7, 2014
PARIS (AP) — Monday's meeting in northern French city of Amiens was not going well.
As farm tires were rolled in to block the doorway, two Goodyear managers were trapped in a conference room with angry French workers who were demanding more money in exchange for the inevitable loss of their jobs. The morning "meeting" dragged on into the night, and the union said it was settling in for the long haul — with the two executives still captive inside.
Goodyear has tried to shutter the plant in Amiens for five years without success. Its latest attempt was met Monday with a "boss-napping" — a French negotiating tactic that had largely faded away after the height of the economic crisis in 2009.
More theater than actual threat, it aims to grab management's attention — by grabbing management. Late Monday, one of the prisoners decried the tactic as degrading and humiliating.
The Amiens plant has an especially contentious past. Goodyear's hopes to close it have been thwarted by violent protests with huge bonfires, government concerns and France's prolonged layoff procedures. Now, the union is willing to accept the inevitable loss of jobs — but at a cost.
"Clearly it was no longer possible to keep fighting for our jobs," Mickael Wamen, the union president, told LCI television. "So we decided to change tactics and fight for the largest compensation possible."
In exchange for freeing the bosses, they're demanding an 80,000-euro ($108,000) severance package plus 2,500 euros ($3,400) for each year worked.
Some journalists were allowed to enter the room where the managers were being held Monday. The atmosphere inside resembled a college dorm, with several employees laughing and cheering as others rolled a tractor tire into the doorway.
"We've been stuck in this room for three or four hours, and it's out of the question that I respond to questions under pressure," Bernard Glesser, the director of human resources, told journalists in a video posted on the French website Dailymotion by the Courrier Picard newspaper.
Things got rowdier when Glesser continued, saying that, while he did not fear for his safety, the situation was "completely disagreeable" and he was being insulted and humiliated.
"Crook!" one worker yelled.
"You haven't been humiliating us for seven years?" another shouted.
A third worker handed Glesser a portable urinal. The other manager being held was the plant's head of production, Michel Dheilly.
Evelyne Becker, a union representative, said the two were blocked from leaving after an especially difficult meeting with staff. Goodyear confirmed the two managers were being held against their will.
"This kind of initiative, always to be condemned, is especially inopportune and counterproductive at a time when we should concentrate on the future of employees affected by the restructuring, after several years looking for a solution," Goodyear said in a statement.
The factory and its nearly 1,200 workers have become an emblem of France's labor issues. Last year, an outspoken American executive who had considered taking it over derided the staff as overpaid loafers.
"The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three," Maurice Taylor, the CEO of Titan tires, wrote to a French government official.
Workers have seized on Goodyear's profitability in their fight against the factory closure, but the company says profit margins have been slipping for years and the business in Europe isn't sustainable.
The workers have burned tires in protest, fired paintballs at police and come under tear gas spray.
But Monday's boss-napping appeared to take the conflict to a new stage.
In a statement, the union vowed never to give up its fight to keep the factory open, even though many have already conceded that point.
"We just want to continue to work and not swell the ranks of the unemployed and marginalized, and if for that we have to resort to extreme methods, we won't hesitate to do that," the union letter said. Late Tuesday, the union tweeted that members had "decided to spend the night with the managers in the factory."
In the wake of the global financial crisis, boss-nappings struck at large global companies. Companies such as 3M, Sony, Caterpillar and a Hewlett-Packard subsidiary were hit in 2009.
The incidents, which usually last from a few hours to a couple of days, are punishable under French law by five years in prison and a 75,000-euro ($102,000) fine — as long as the boss goes free in under a week.
But generally the workers are not prosecuted, and in many cases they have tried to make the manager's time in captivity more comfortable.
At a 3M boss-napping in 2009, workers brought the captive manager a meal of mussels and fries.
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