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France: No, You Can No Longer Kidnap Your Boss

A group of Goodyear employees are facing jail time for holding executives hostage in 2014.

A protester holds a sign reading "Bad Year - Workers : We were formidable (making 24 000 tyres per day) - Bosses : They were pathetic (pushing for outsourcing)" as workers of the Goodyear tyre manufacturing company's factory in Amiens take part in a protest against the company's announced layoffs of workers, in front of the town hall in Amiens, on January 18, 2014. A few hundred workers took part in the protest against the proposed layoffs with many chanting a common slogan 'To fire a worker is to kill a family'. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI        (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP/Getty Images)
A protester holds a sign reading "Bad Year - Workers : We were formidable (making 24 000 tyres per day) - Bosses : They were pathetic (pushing for outsourcing)" as workers of the Goodyear tyre manufacturing company's factory in Amiens take part in a protest against the company's announced layoffs of workers, in front of the town hall in Amiens, on January 18, 2014. A few hundred workers took part in the protest against the proposed layoffs with many chanting a common slogan 'To fire a worker is to kill a family'. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP/Getty Images)

Employees of Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. are not the first French workers to hold their bosses hostage. But, surprisingly, they will be the first to go to jail for the practice.

A nine-month jail sentence, handed down Tuesday to eight Goodyear employees who held two executives hostage for 30 hours in 2014, may spell the beginning of the end for bossnapping. Union workers have occasionally used the practice to negotiate during labor strikes in France.

By Wednesday, Goodyear’s union leader made clear the workers hadn’t expected to be punished for it.

“This [sentence] is clearly an attack unlike anything we’ve seen before in the history of the working world,” Goodyear CGT union leader Mickael Wamen told France24. “Never before have employees or union members been sentenced to prison.”

The eight workers who were sentenced this week blocked managers from leaving a conference room during a dispute about the planned closing of a manufacturing plant in northern France. At the time, Wamen defended his union colleagues. “They’ll be held hostage until we have a guarantee that real negotiations will start on bonuses and severance packages for all employees,” he told reporters in 2014. The executives were released when police intervened.

In France, holding a person captive for seven days or less could earn a perpetrator five years in prison and a 75,000 euro fine. But when it comes to bossnapping –a relatively common occurrence in France, where worker strikes happen regularly — offenders are rarely punished.

Bossnappings rarely last for more than a day or two, and those doing the napping reportedly tend to treat their captives well.

That bossnapping often results in change gives them reason to continue. In 2009, 10 bossnappings took place in France, and in one instance, Caterpillar Inc. employees held four executives hostage for 24 hours to protest layoffs. It paid off: After they were released, the total severance package was increased by some 1.5 million euros.

Weeks after the Goodyear bossnapping, workers were promised severance pay that they claimed was three times more than the company’s initial offer.  

French workers have employed other dramatic tactics during negotiations as well. In 2003, Metaleurop workers pushed a company truck into a river and blew up sodium blocks. They were not prosecuted. And in 2009, auto workers booby-trapped and threatened to blow up a building unless they received 30,000 euros per worker as severance. Their severance package in the end totalled 18,000 euros each.

The next group of French workers to face criminal prosecution over a labor dispute will likely be the five AirFrance workers who ripped the shirts off of fleeing executives last October after a plan to cut almost 3,000 jobs was announced.

Photo credit: FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP/Getty Images

Megan Alpert is a fellow at Foreign Policy. Her previous bylines have included The Guardian, Guernica Daily, and Earth Island Journal. @megan_alpert

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