France, Goodyear workers end standoff

AP News
Posted: Jan 22, 2014 3:00 PM

PARIS (AP) — French officials and protesting workers at a Goodyear tire plant in the northern French town of Amiens that's been looking to close reached an agreement on Wednesday that ends a years of standoff.

The accord came after 10 days of negotiations among the government, the company and unions. The office of Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the "end of conflict protocol" puts an end to the occupation of the factory by workers demanding new negotiations over severance packages.

So bitter was the standoff that workers took two Goodyear managers hostage earlier this month, and freed them only after police intervened.

The lengthy saga has made the plant an emblem of France's labor tensions.

France's minister for industrial renewal, Arnaud Montebourg, said in a statement that the accord opens the way to an offer by U.S.-based Titan International which, the minister said, would guarantee 333 jobs at the site for four years.

Where that offer stands remains unclear. Titan CEO Maurice Taylor, known as a tough negotiator, publicly blasted the French work ethic a year ago after visiting the factory north of Paris, drawing piqued responses from Montebourg and other government officials.

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the accord includes language by which the parties commit "not to block the arrival of any company that would propose taking over the site."

The accord includes improved indemnities for workers who are let go, although the amount was not immediately made public.

Neither Goodyear nor the CGT union leading the protest could be reached by phone.

The government took action after Goodyear workers took the plant director and human resources chief captive to demand better severance packages. Ayrault, the prime minister, appointed a representative to work with both sides to reach an agreement. Workers demanding new negotiations over severance packages had occupied the site since late December.

For more than five years, Goodyear has tried to sell or shutter the Amiens plant. Some 1,200 people were employed at the plant, but as of late last year its tire production had drastically dwindled.