Two Frances on one street in "lazy" tire worker town

Tue Mar 5, 2013 4:44am EST
 
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By Nicholas Vinocur

AMIENS, France (Reuters) - The U.S. tire executive who infuriated the French by calling workers at a doomed Goodyear factory "not worth saving" might have formed a different impression of France had he visited the Dunlop factory across the street.

The Dunlop plant near Amiens in northern France was the mirror image of the plant that Titan International TWI.N CEO Maurice Taylor, nicknamed The Grizz for his gruff demeanor, had considered buying before dropping the idea and complaining the workforce spent as much time talking as working.

But the two plants, whose shared parent is Goodyear Dunlop, chose different destinies four years ago when Dunlop's unions accepted tougher labor conditions and Goodyear's rejected them.

Now Goodyear faces closure, while Dunlop has received more than 50 million euros ($65 million) in investment.

"The bottom line is that our jobs are staying, and across the street there are 1,173 guys who are going to be on benefits," said a Dunlop union leader who asked to remain anonymous to avoid adding to what he called "severe" tensions with Goodyear workers. "Draw your own conclusions."

Union leaders at the two plants on the outskirts of Amiens, where riots erupted last August, were friends before a management request to merge the plants and switch to four daily work shifts from three previously tore them apart in 2009.

Goodyear is not alone in demanding higher productivity; struggling carmakers Peugeot (PEUP.PA: Quote) and Renault (RENA.PA: Quote) have also pressed unions to accept more stringent work conditions, with the latter near a national deal.

In Amiens, Goodyear's CGT leader Mickael Wamen rejected the plan, which came in exchange for salary rises and investment to renovate tools, while Dunlop's CFDT accepted it. Two months later, Goodyear faced its first in a series of redundancy plans.   Continued...

 
Goodyear workers burn tyres symbolizing 1,173 employees next to the Goodyear tyres factory in Amiens, February 26, 2013. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol