French Workers Release Caterpillar Bosses

Company agreed to reopen talks regarding layoffs

Four managers held hostage for 24 hours at a Caterpillar bulldozer plant were released on April 1, after the company offered to reopen talks on layoffs under mediation by the state.

Employees at the Caterpillar factory in the southeastern city of Grenoble barricaded their bosses inside an office on March 31 after talks between management and 733 workers facing redundancy broke down.

Factory director Nicolas Polutnik was set free along with the head of personnel and two other managers. A fifth executive, the human resources director who suffers from heart problems, had been allowed to leave on March 31.

Hecklers shouted out "Resign!" while some 400 workers booed and whistled as the executives were driven from the site, headed for the regional labor office where the talks with unions are to take place.

Their release came after President Nicolas Sarkozy moved to defuse the situation by offering in a radio interview to meet union leaders from the plant to hear their demands.

Wide-ranging negotiations were to resume on April 1 afternoon on a possible cut in the number of redundancies, compensation for laid-off staff and the long-term future of the Grenoble operations.

Caterpillar workers were demanding a minimum of 30,000 euros (US$39,000) in severance pay, much more than the 10,000 euros that Caterpillar was offering as minimum compensation.

Pierre Piccarreta, CGT union leader at the plant, said the talks would involve representatives from Caterpillar's European and U.S. headquarters and French state officials. He said Caterpillar had already put an offer of compensation on the table for staff forced into part-time work, and would pay workers for the three days spent on strike -- which he called a "historic" gesture.

Speaking to reporters at the plant, Polutnik said Caterpillar agreed to the unions' demand for payment for time on strike "as a gesture of appeasement."

"There is a condition, which is for the site to be evacuated, for us to be free to come and go as we please, and for the strike order to be lifted to allow negotiations to go ahead," he said.

He did not confirm the offer of special compensation for part-timers.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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