By Lori Hinnant
PARIS: Monday’s meeting between labor officials and tire company managers in the northern French city of Amiens was not going well.
As farm tires blocked 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.
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 economic crisis in 2009.
More theater than actual threat, it aims to grab management’s attention — by grabbing management. Late Monday, one of the captive managers said the tactic was degrading and humiliating.
The Amiens plant has an especially contentious past. Goodyear’s hopes to close the plant have been thwarted by violent protests with huge bonfires, government concerns and France’s prolonged layoff procedures. Now, the union is willing to accept losing 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 a $108,000 severance package plus $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.
Glesser added 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.
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.
Goodyear confirmed that the site director and director of human resources were the managers involved.
The company said it “calls for respect of the law and their responsibilities to the employees’ representatives who are behind this initiative and strongly condemns any form of violence.”
Besides Glesser, the other executive being held was Michel Dheilly, whose title is production manager.
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.
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.”