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Monday 22 September 2014

Tyre workers hold bosses captive

Published 06/01/2014 | 22:12

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A worker at the Goodyear tyre factory guards the human resources chief, Bernard Glesser, left, and the firm's production manager Michel Dheilly, right (AP)

French workers at a Goodyear plant are holding two managers captive in a conference room in a row over the firm's attempts to close the tyre factory.

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The bosses were meeting workers at the Amiens plant when farm tyres were rolled in to block the doorway trapping the two men.

The workers are 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 today with a "boss-napping" - a French negotiating tactic that had largely faded away after the height of the economic crisis in 2009.

More theatre than actual threat, it aims to grab management's attention - by grabbing management. Late today, 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 lay-off 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 (£66,000) severance package plus 2,500 euros (£2,100) for each year worked.

Some journalists were allowed to enter the room where the managers were being held. The atmosphere inside resembled a college dorm, with several employees laughing and cheering as others rolled a tractor tyre 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 Mr 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 Mr 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 labour 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 tyres, 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.

AP

Press Association

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