Michelin workers in eastern France lock up bosses amid tensions over job losses

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

French Michelin workers lock up bosses in dispute

PARIS — Workers at a Michelin tire plant in eastern France briefly locked up four managers and ransacked offices in a labor dispute amid tensions over layoffs, a company official said Wednesday.

The auto and auto parts industries have been particularly hard hit by cutbacks and a backlash by French workers amid the country’s worst recession in decades, and the Michelin incident was the latest example of the extremes workers are resorting to.

About 50 workers at Michelin’s plant in Montceau-les-Mines in eastern France locked up four managers, including the director, on Tuesday night. Unions say the dispute stemmed from a worker being punished for refusing to use machinery he wasn’t trained on.

The managers were released early Wednesday after regional officials offered to mediate, Michelin spokeswoman Fabienne de Brebisson said. Negotiations began at the plant Wednesday morning, she said.

As tensions peaked during the “bossnapping,” workers caused considerable damage to an administrative building, breaking windows and damaging bathrooms, de Brebisson said.

Patrick Duvert of the CGT union said the sanction against the worker, who was on a short-term contract, was a sign of growing pressure by management. The incident comes amid tensions and negotiations over Michelin’s plans, announced last month, to reduce French staff by more than 1,000 people.

“We warned the management. We don’t want that” kind of pressure, Duvert said on France-Info radio. “Workers are mobilized.”

Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said she “condemned all acts of violence or situations of blackmail” by angry workers. “What works is dialogue,” she said on France-2 television Wednesday.

Industry Minister Christian Estrosi will meet later Wednesday with laid-off workers from an auto parts plant in central France who placed gas canisters around their factory and threatened to blow it up if they didn’t get larger severance packages.

The workers removed the canisters pending the meeting with Estrosi.

The workers at the New Fabris plant want euro30,000 ($43,000) each from Renault SA and PSA Peugeot-Citroen, blaming French automakers for causing the collapse of their factory.

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