French employees sue Goodyear over plan to shut down tire plant

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AKRON, Ohio -- Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. is being sued in Ohio by French workers claiming the company violated laws of both countries as it implemented a plan to close a plant in Amiens, France.

Mickael Wamen, an employee, and the Central Works Council, a body elected by employees to represent them, filed a complaint last week in state court in Akron, Ohio, asking for $4 million in damages and class-action status for the case.

"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 without consulting the proper representatives of their employees," according to a copy of the complaint obtained from the workers' lawyers.

The employees claim the parent company illegally interfered with their relationship with its French unit and thus violated Ohio law.

The case was filed in the U.S. because the offending conduct occurred at Goodyear's headquarters in Akron, the lead plaintiffs' lawyer, Robert D. Gary said in a telephone interview.

"Goodyear U.S. interfered in the agreement between Goodyear France and the workers," said Mr. Gary, of the law firm Gary, Naegele & Theado LLC in Lorain, Ohio. "Another element of this is that there is no such thing as a class action in France."

A class-action lawsuit allows all plaintiffs in a group to sue in a single case rather than having to pursue their claims individually. Class-action status requires court approval.

The planned closing of the site by Goodyear, the biggest U.S. tire maker, triggered protests in the northern French town. Nineteen police officers were hurt there on March 7 in a clash with stone-throwing workers.

Goodyear employs about 1,173 people at the Amiens facility, according to the complaint.

"The company doesn't comment on pending litigation," Keith Price, a spokesman for the Akron-based company, said.

Mr. Wamen and the council allege Goodyear failed to give them complete and timely information about plans to close the factory and relocate its manufacturing capacity elsewhere, as well as about the company's since-abandoned plan to sell its farm-tire production to Titan International Inc.

The employees asked for a court order preventing Goodyear from moving consumer tire production out of the facility.

The French employees are paid based on their production, Mr. Gary said.

When a decision was made to cut production at the Amiens plant, pay was reduced, along with mandatory compensation paid by Goodyear France to the Central Works Council, he explained.

The production cut violated an injunction issued by a French court in 2009, according to the complaint.

"What's hard for us as Americans is, Why couldn't they do this?" Mr. Gary said, referring to Goodyear's cutting production without the possibility of a legal barrier. "It's a clash of cultures."

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