Michel Euler/AP
Luc Rousselet, the director of 3M's French operations.

Bossnapped! French Employees Try Kidnapping to Delay Layoffs

April 10, 2009 11:30 AM
by Ellen Shapiro
Protesting French workers once again man the barricades—by locking their bosses behind them.

“Only Remaining Bartering Tool”

Around the world, dire economic times have left millions of jobless workers desperate and angry. Laid-off employees at a Chicago factory staged a well-publicized six-day sit-in that won them back pay—though that seemed an isolated incident in a country that vents outrage by dialing talk radio or writing their congressman.

The French, however, take their protests a little more personally. In a phenomenon dubbed “bossnapping,” workers hold executives hostage to protest plant closings and demand better severance terms.

The latest incident occurred April 7, when employees of a British-owned adhesives factory locked up several managers to protest the plant’s possible closure—the fourth bossnapping in less than a month. Executives at Sony, Michelin, and Caterpillar have all been held against their will, though there has been no violence and most were released after a day.

At 3M, a company known for its Scotch tape and Post-it notes, Luc Rousselet, an industrial director, had to sleep on cardboard for two nights, though he dined on mussels and French fries that workers brought. Rousselet was let go unharmed after agreeing to give laid-off employees additional pay.

According the The Guardian, bossnappings were first tried in France during the 1968 general strike.

But the current wave, fueled by an unemployment rate of almost 4,000 jobs a day and reports of multi-million dollar executive bonuses, has led to “spontaneous hostage-taking at plants and factories around the country” as executives from Paris arrive to announce layoffs. It is “our only remaining bartering tool,” said one union leader to The Guardian.

And much of the French public seems to agree. A poll by the CSA institute for Le Parisien newspaper reports that almost half believe it is acceptable for workers facing layoffs to lock up their bosses. “They are not in the majority ... but 45 percent is an enormous percentage and it demonstrates the extent of exasperation among the public at this time of economic crisis,” Le Parisien said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has promised a crackdown: “We are a nation of laws. I won’t allow this sort of thing,” he said on April 7. But given the sizeable public sympathy for the workers, some question whether it would be politically expedient to take decisive action. According to Businessweek, “the popular view seems to be that, with so many workers likely to lose their jobs, locking the boss up for a few hours is a relatively harmless way to let off steam.” 

Even Donald Trump, America’s premiere corporate celebrity, admits the bossnappings have seemed to work.

“So far it is a revolt without violence,” he cautions in a blog on his site, Trump University, “but it’s a barometer of the times that isn’t a good sign.”

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Related Topic: Laid-off Chicago factory workers win concessions after sit-in

Former employees of the shuttered Republic Windows & Doors factory in Chicago won a $1.75 million settlement to cover severance and vacation pay after staging a six-day sit-in. The Republic factory suddenly closed its doors Dec. 5, leaving 300 employees, including 240 union members, jobless.

To protest being laid off without fringe benefits to which the workers say they are entitled, as well as being notified only three days prior to the plant’s closing (rather than 60 days prior as required by law), the unionized members of Republic’s staff staged a sit-in that drew national attention and the support of local politicians. The settlement—negotiated by the workers, union representatives and Bank of America, will go into an escrow account for the employees’ benefits.

Reference: Surviving a layoff


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