Feb. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Titan International Inc. Chairman Maurice Taylor has got French backs up with his comments that the country’s workers earn high wages and work short hours.
In a letter to French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg declining to reconsider buying a tire plant in the country, he wrote that France can keep its “so-called workers.” Taylor, who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996, laid out why his company walked away and won’t re-examine buying a plant that Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., the largest U.S. tire-maker, is closing in France.
“I have visited the factory several times,” Taylor wrote. “The French workforce gets paid high wages but works only three hours. They get one hour for breaks and lunch, talk for three and work for three. I told the French union workers this to their faces. They told me that’s the French way!”
Montebourg said earlier this month he was dropping efforts to get Quincy, Illinois-based Titan to take over some of Goodyear’s operations in Amiens, in northern France. The move, which has put 1,173 jobs at risk, shows the challenge President Francois Hollande faces in improving French competitiveness as factory operators confront pressure from global markets.
Hollande is struggling to boost employment in an economy that’s teetering on the brink of recession as more than 3 million people look for work in France, the highest level of joblessness in 15 years.
“The workers of Goodyear would have considered themselves insulted had the author of the letter been someone credible,” the CGT union said in an e-mailed statement.
Krista Gray, an investor relations representative at Titan, didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment. Montebourg’s office confirmed it had received the letter.
In a letter to Taylor dated today and released to the press, Montebourg said, “your comments that are as extremist as they are insulting testify to your perfect ignorance of our country, La France, and its strengths.”
In the two-page letter evoking La Fayette, the American landing in Normandy that “delivered us from the Nazis in 1944” and “an admiration” for the policies of President Barack Obama, Montebourg sought to show the close ties between France and the U.S.
He pointed out that Titan could have “learned and gained a lot from a presence in France,” noting that “the company you manage is 20 times smaller than Michelin, the genuinely international French leader, and 35 times less profitable.”
Goodyear said Jan. 31 it will close its main French plant and cut its workforce in the country by 39 percent amid labor disputes and plunging auto demand in Europe.
“Goodyear tried for over four years to save part of the Amiens jobs that are some of the highest paid but the French unions and the French government did nothing but talk,” Taylor wrote, according to the letter published today by Les Echos.
In December 2011, Titan dropped a two-year-old plan to buy the factory’s farm-tire operations, citing union opposition.
The CGT union said in its statement that “Titan had never really intended to take over the site and never had an industrial project for the plant.” It said workers suspected all along that Titan considered buying the farm-tire business on condition the passenger-vehicle tires operation was shut down.
Taylor, who goes by “Morry,” ran for President in 1996 on the Republican ticket using the slogan “A doer, not a talker,” according to his blog called “grizztalk.” Among recommendations he’s made to President Obama include shutting the Department of Education and dropping sick pay for government employees, according to the company’s website.
He didn’t mince his words when he told Montebourg why Titan wouldn’t consider reviving its bid for the French operations.
“Sir, your letter says you want Titan to start a discussion,” he wrote. “How stupid do you think we are? Titan is the one with the money and the talent to produce tires. What does the crazy union have? It has the French government. The French farmer wants cheap tires. He does not care if the tires come from India or China and these governments are subsidizing them. Your government doesn’t care either. ‘We’re French!”’
To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Deen in Paris at firstname.lastname@example.org