(Updates with details of burning tires in second paragraph.)
Jan. 7 (Bloomberg) -- The two executives of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.’s French unit held hostage for two days by a union over a plant closure were freed after police intervened.
Workers occupied the factory and are burning tires outside the plant, putting the area under a cloud of black smoke, a spokesman for the local authority said.
“The show is only just beginning,” Mickael Wamen, leader of the CGT union at Goodyear’s Amiens-Nord factory, said at a press conference after the release of the hostages.
The hostage-taking had been the latest twist in Goodyear’s woes in France. The Akron, Ohio-based company, which employs about 3,000 people in the country, announced plans in January 2013 to shut the facility after failing to reach an accord after five years of talks with the CGT, the main union at the site.
The company’s plans, which put 1,173 jobs at risk, have caused violent clashes that left 19 police officers injured in March and there were demonstrations in February before Goodyear’s local headquarters in Rueil-Malmaison by workers and their families. The CGT has also filed a lawsuit in Ohio.
The stalemate drew the attention of the French government last year, with Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg seeking a buyer for the plant. The government’s involvement came as President Francois Hollande struggles to curb an unemployment rate that rose to 10.9 percent, the highest in almost 16 years.
CGT released the hostages -- Michel Dheilly, director of production at Goodyear’s Amiens-Nord plant in northern France, and Bernard Glesser, head of the site’s human resources -- under pressure from local authorities and the police.
“Condemning this kind of action, the local authorities are calling on the management and the union to return to the table and renew a constructive dialogue,” the regional office said in an e-mailed statement.
Goodyear had refused to open talks with the union until the release of the executives.
French unions have taken executives hostage in the past to force negotiations. In 2009, bosses at French units of Caterpillar Inc., 3M Co. and Sony Corp. were among executives held hostage by workers unhappy with job cuts and severance pay.
In Goodyear’s case, the regional municipal authority mediated to try and bring the company’s management and the unions together for talks.
Montebourg got involved in a public spat last year with Titan International Inc. Chairman Maurice Taylor, who had considered investing in the farm-tire operations of the factory.
In a letter to Montebourg in February, Taylor, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996, explained his Quincy, Illinois-based company’s decision to walk away, saying “the French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three.”
In his reply to Taylor released to the press, Montebourg said at the time, “your comments that are as extremist as they are insulting testify to your perfect ignorance of our country, La France, and its strengths.”
Montebourg said in October he tried to bring Taylor back to the table for talks. Paolo Ghilardi, a Goodyear spokesman, said the company hasn’t received any formal offer from Titan.
Taylor last night told French radio station RTL what he thought of the hostage-taking situation.
“That’s really stupid,” he said. “They’re taking hostages. In the U.S., that’s kidnapping. If they did that in the U.S., these people would go to jail. Why don’t they just go and rob a bunch of French banks and they could end up buying Goodyear? They’re crazy. I mean, come on! Get real. There’s no reason to do that. They’re not the big bosses. They can’t do anything. My God, they’re nuts.”
--Editors: Vidya Root, Robert Valpuesta