Captive Goodyear bosses freed at French site

AMIENS, France – Two Goodyear (GT) managers held captive by angry French workers were freed Tuesday after police
intervened, ending a two-day standoff over the factory’s bleak future.

The release outraged union members,
who made a bonfire of tires in front of the plant. It also left unresolved the
larger problems that have dogged the plant in Amiens in northern France, which
Goodyear has tried to sell or shutter for more than five years.

The plant has become an emblem of
France’s labor tensions. Workers, having failed so far to save their jobs,
seized the plant’s director and human resources chief on Monday morning to
demand bigger severance packages.

“Boss-napping” has happened
sporadically in France in the past, but police generally don’t intervene in
such incidents, to avoid inflaming tensions while mediators try to settle the
labor dispute.

The Amiens plant has seen violent
protests in recent years, so a judge authorized police intervention.

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

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 has occurred sporadically
in France for decades, and 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.

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Captive Goodyear bosses freed at French site
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