Published on April 15, 2013

Goodyear sued by workers at French plant

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AKRON—Workers at Goodyear's farm tire plant in Amiens, France, are suing the company in an Ohio common pleas court, claiming the company violated French labor law in deciding to close the plant without informing the union.

The lawsuit, filed April 9 in Summit County Common Pleas Court in Akron, seeks orders to increase tire production at Amiens North; to forbid Goodyear from relocating consumer tire production without first notifying workers; compen-

satory damages of approximately $4 million; and other damages, remedies and costs the court deems proper.

“The laws of France are designed to protect its workers from employers disregarding the impact of their decisions that disrupt the lives of their employees,” said the complaint filed by the Comite d'Etablissement d'Amiens Nord, also known as the Central Works Council.

The council represents the 1,173 workers at the Amiens North plant, one of two tire factories Goodyear operates in the northern French city.

Goodyear notified workers at the plant in late January of its plan to close the 54-year-old factory and exit the farm tire business in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

According to the complaint, the management of Goodyear France withheld important information from the council and workers starting in May 2009, when it first said it was contemplating phasing out consumer tire production and selling farm tire operations at Amiens North.

In 2009, Goodyear cut consumer tire production at Amiens North by 2 million units without informing workers, the suit claims—noting this was a violation of the French Labor Code.

Also, Goodyear told the Amiens North workers in January 2011 that Titan International Inc. was willing to take over the farm tire business at Amiens North and preserve jobs there for two years, when in fact Titan had no such intentions, the complaint said. Titan signed a purchase agreement for the plant then, but with the provision that Goodyear settle its issues with the union.

Three times—once in 2009 and twice in 2011—the president of the Civil Court of Nanterre found Goodyear in violation of the French Labor Code. She ordered the company to suspend its restructuring plans, but Goodyear continued to transfer production from Amiens North anyway, according to the suit.

“By relocating the production of consumer tires at the Amiens North factory to other group entities, Goodyear intentionally implemented a plan to insure that the production of consumer tires at the Amiens North factory would cease to be profitable, and thus jury-rigged its own self-serving 'economic justification,'” it said.

A Goodyear spokesman declined comment on the complaint, saying the company had not yet seen a copy.

Titan decided earlier this year not to buy the farm tire business at Amiens, leading to an acrimonious exchange of letters between Titan Chairman and CEO Maurice Taylor Jr. and Arnaud Montebourg, French Minister of Industry.

Closing Amiens North will eliminate approximately 6 million units of high-cost annual capacity, Goodyear said, although production there last year was only 1.3 million units.

Goodyear took a $74 million charge against earnings in the fiscal 2012 fourth quarter to account for the closing, bringing losses attributed to the plant and business to at least $230 million.



To reach this reporter: mmoore@crain.com; 202-662-7211.

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