Tyre executives released unharmed after “boss-napping”

Communist trade unionists demand more severance pay as factory closes

Executives from the Goodyear tyre company were released unharmed yesterday afternoon, after being held hostage by communist trade unionists.

Some 200 members of the Confédération Générale de Travail (CGT) detained Michel Dheilly, head of production at the tyre factory in Amiens, and Bernard Glesser, head of human resources, on Monday morning, in a dispute over indemnities when the factory closes at the end of this month, with the loss of 1,173 jobs.

Negotiations had broken down after Goodyear, based in Ohio, refused to negotiate as long as the two men were “sequestered”. The trade unionists gave in to pleas from local police and government.

“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 authority said.

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The CGT has blocked the Goodyear warehouse since November, and continued to burn stacks of tyres yesterday. Employees were seen leaving the site carrying files.

"The show is only just beginning," Mickael Wamen, the CGT leader in the Amiens factory, told a press conference after the hostages were freed.

The workers are demanding €80,000 in severance pay, plus €2,500 for each year worked. Those amounts were proposed in a 2012 redundancy plan, but the offer was subsequently reduced to €25,000.

At 10.9 per cent, French unemployment is now its highest in nearly 16 years. Air France- KLM, PSA Peugeot Citroen, Alcatel-Lucent and Sanofi fired large numbers of workers last year, with few incidents.

The French billionaire François-Henri Pinaut and executives at Caterpillar, 3M and Sony were held against their will in the spring of 2009 in the last spate of “boss-napping”.

The Amiens stand-off had appeared likely to last several days. The CGT said it would bring mattresses to the meeting room, where a door was blocked with a giant farm tractor tyre.

Messrs Dheilly and Glesser were given coffee and chocolates overnight, were filmed by journalists and talked to their families on mobile phones.

“When we are kept against our will and forced to submit to humiliations and insults, we are not being well treated,” Mr Glesser said in a video posted on the business website BFM.

The CGT has been in conflict with Goodyear for six years over the closure. The union lost its last legal appeal to keep the factory open in December.

The US-based company Titan was interested in buying the factory, but clashed repeatedly with the CGT and French officials. Last February, Titan's president Maurice Taylor said the CGT was a "crazy union" and referred to "so-called French workers" who "receive high salaries and only work three hours a day".

Reacting to the "boss-napping," Mr Taylor told French radio: "If they did that in the US, these people would go to jail . . . This is a very serious crime. You would risk life imprisonment. But in France, your government does nothing. It's crazy."

In November, Mr Taylor offered to employ 333 people at the factory if all present employees were fired. “Under French law, if someone buys the factory, they have to rehire all these people. It’s completely stupid,” he said.

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is an Irish Times contributor