AMIENS, France (TheBlaze/AP) – Two Goodyear managers were freed Tuesday by French authorities, bringing to a close a tense two-day standoff with union workers who are angry about the factory’s bleak future.
The release outraged union members, who made a bonfire of tires in front of the plant.
“The show is only just beginning,” Mickael Wamen, leader of the CGT union at Goodyear’s Amiens-Nord factory, said after the hostages were released.
Police action left unresolved the larger problems that have dogged the plant in Amiens in northern France, which Goodyear announced it would close in Jan. 2013, taking with it about 1,173 jobs.
Montebourg’s attempt to offload the troubled factory on the American turnaround artist ended poorly.
“I have visited that factory a couple of times. The French workforce gets paid high wages but work only three hours,” Taylor said in a letter dated Feb 8. “How stupid do you think we are? Titan is the one with the money and the talent to produce tires. What does the crazy union have? It has the French government.”
But even before Montebourg’s misguided attempt to sell to Taylor, the plant has become an emblem of France’s labor tensions, escalating to the point where French workers, having failed so far to save their jobs, actually seized the plant’s director and human resources chief on Monday morning to demand bigger severance packages.
A dozen police officers arrived at the plant Tuesday afternoon, and two went inside the facility. Minutes later, the two bosses walked out and got in an unmarked police car. They did not speak to reporters.
Angry and cursing, Mickael Wamen of the CGT union said afterward: “We were told very clearly … that if we didn’t free these two people that dozens and dozens of riot police trucks would be coming from Paris, would go inside, a riot would break out and they would whack us all and we’d all end up in prison.”
“We are already losing our jobs, on top of that to end up in prison …” he continued.
Soon afterward, union representatives spray-painted the word “bad” over the letters “good” in Goodyear on the sign leading into the factory.
Some had hoped for talks Tuesday to try to defuse the dispute, but both sides dug in and refused to negotiate.
Boss-napping reached a peak during the global financial crisis in 2009. Sylvain Niel, a labor lawyer who has worked on similar issues, said boss-napping has been less frequent since then because anything management agreed to under pressure was later voided in courts.
“It’s a reaction of despair,” Niel said. “They have no room to maneuver in the closing of the factory.”
Boss-nappings typically have lasted from a few hours to a couple of days. They are punishable under French law by five years in prison and a 75,000-euro ($102,000) fine if the boss goes free in under a week. Usually, however, the workers are not prosecuted.
The Amiens plant has an especially contentious past. Goodyear’s attempts to close it have been stalled by violent protests and France’s prolonged layoff procedures.
Workers have been blocking a storage warehouse, which contains hundreds of millions of euros in tire merchandise, since before the year-end holidays.
Threats last weekend by management to authorize force to free the warehouse were what sent tensions flaring at a union-management meeting Monday morning – and led workers to block the two executives inside.
Wamen, the union leader, told the Courrier Picard newspaper that the managers had refused offers of mattresses and blankets overnight.
“Things were sometimes animated, sometimes calm, but without any meanness,” Michel Dheilly, the captive plant manager, had told reporters allowed inside the factory.
The other captive manager, Bernard Glesser, had been less sanguine, saying he would not give any statements under duress.
Follow Becket Adams (@BecketAdams) on Twitter