Managers held hostage by union are freed at Goodyear’s French plant

Bloomberg News

PARIS – The two executives of Goodyear Tire &Rubber’s French unit held hostage for two days by a union over a plant closure were freed after police intervened.

Workers occupied the factory and are burning tires outside the plant, putting the area under a cloud of black smoke, a spokesman for the local authority said.

“The show is only just beginning,” Mickael Wamen, leader of the CGT union at Goodyear’s Amiens-Nord factory, said at a press conference after the release of the hostages.

CGT released the hostages – Michel Dheilly, director of production at Goodyear’s Amiens-Nord plant in northern France, and Bernard Glesser, head of the site’s human resources – under pressure from local authorities and the police.

The hostage-taking was the latest of Goodyear’s woes in France. The Akron, Ohio-based company, which employs about 3,000 people in the country, announced plans last January to shut the facility after failing to reach an accord after five years of talks with the CGT, the main union at the site.

The plans, which put 1,173 jobs at risk, caused violent clashes that left 19 police officers injured in March. Workers and their families demonstrated in February before Goodyear’s local headquarters in Rueil-Malmaison. The CGT has also filed a lawsuit in Ohio.

The stalemate drew the attention of the French government last year, with Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg seeking a buyer for the plant. The government’s involvement came as President Francois Hollande struggles to curb an unemployment rate that rose to 10.9 percent, the highest in almost 16 years.

“Condemning this kind of action, the local authorities are calling on the management and the union to return to the table and renew a constructive dialogue,” the regional office said in an e-mailed statement.

Goodyear had refused to open talks with the union until the executives’ release.

French unions have taken executives hostage in the past to force negotiations. In 2009, bosses at French units of Caterpillar, 3M and Sony were among executives held hostage by workers unhappy with job cuts and severance pay.

In Goodyear’s case, the regional municipal authority mediated to try and bring the company’s management and the unions together for talks.

Montebourg, the minister, had public spat last year with Titan International. Chairman Maurice Taylor had considered investing in the factory’s farm-tire operations but wrote to Montebourg in February about his company’s decision to walk away:

“The French work force gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three.”

Montebourg released his reply to the press, saying, “Your comments that are as extremist as they are insulting testify to your perfect ignorance of our country, La France, and its strengths.”

In October, Montebourg said he tried to bring Taylor back to the table for talks. Goodyear spokesman Paolo Ghilardi said the company hasn’t received any formal offer from Quincy, Ill.-based Titan.

On Monday, Taylor Taylor, who ran for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination, talked about the hostage-taking to French radio station RTL.

“That’s really stupid,” he said. “They’re taking hostages. In the U.S., that’s kidnapping. If they did that in the U.S., these people would go to jail. Why don’t they just go and rob a bunch of French banks and they could end up buying Goodyear? They’re crazy. I mean, come on! Get real. There’s no reason to do that. They’re not the big bosses. They can’t do anything. My God, they’re nuts.”