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OM in the News: Trying to Close French Factories Can Lead to “Boss-napping”

January 14, 2014
Workers set tires on fire at this French Goodyear plant where 2 execs were held hostage

Workers set tires on fire at this French Goodyear plant where 2 execs were held hostage

Negotiations broke down last week at a Goodyear tire factory scheduled for closing in northern France, so employees kidnapped the bosses. Hundreds of employees held two senior executives captive, threatening to detain them until the company agreed to pay out “huge amounts of money” to nearly 1,200 workers about to lose their jobs. The revival of the French unions’ “boss-napping” tactic clearly causes concerns of multinationals about France as a place to locate, reports The New York Times (Jan. 8, 2014). “This happened because workers were desperate,” said a French prof. “But it is still an act that will underline the perception that it’s difficult to do business in France.”

Tension at the Goodyear plant flared last year after Maurice Taylor, CEO of an American tire company, Titan International, rejected a government appeal to step in and buy the plant. Taylor described French workers as loafers of minimal productivity. “In the U.S., we call this kidnapping,” he stated. “These people would be arrested and prosecuted. But in France, your government does nothing — it’s crazy.”

France’s rigid labor market and the influence of labor unions has long been a source of aggravation to employers. The country’s 3,200-page labor code embodied what the government acknowledged was a “cult of regulation” that choked business. Procedures for shedding workers when economic conditions deteriorate are lengthy and expensive, and businesses pay high taxes to help fund France’s social welfare system. For an employee earning 1,200 euros a month, employers pay an additional €1,000 in tax and pension costs. Unions at the Goodyear plant had been demanding severance packages of €80,000 ($110,000) plus €2,500 for each year worked.

In recent years, French employees took executives of Caterpillar hostage when talks over revamping the company’s operation broke down, trapped the CEO of the group that owns Gucci, while bosses at 3M and Sony were held in an attempt to get bigger severance packages.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. How else can companies in France deal with overcapacity?

2. Why does the French government seem to favor unions?

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