From Producer Beth Rotatori and CNN Wire
Caterpillar officials are calling for the release of a group of company executives being held hostage at a plant in Grenoble, France, by hundreds of workers angry about proposed lay-offs.
“The actions that are taking place today, led by a small minority of individuals, are not helping as we work for a positive resolution of this situation,” Chris Schena, Caterpillar vice president with responsibility for manufacturing operations in Europe, said in the statement released by the company Tuesday afternoon.
Caterpillar, a U.S.-based construction equipment company, would not provide the names or nationalities of the executives being held in Grenoble.
Jim Dugan, the company’s chief corporate spokesperson, told CNN that a “handful” of employees were being detained at the plant.
Police arrived at the scene two hours after the incident began on Tuesday but had not succeeded in getting the situation under control.
According to Nicolas Benoit, a spokesman for the workers’ union, the workers inside the Caterpillar building were holding five employees, including the head of operations, captive in their offices.
They later released one, a human resources director identified only as Mr. Petit, because he has heart problems, union representative Bernard Patrick told CNN. Petit had a heart attack a few weeks ago, Patrick said.
The other four people are still being held, including Nicolas Polutnik, the head of operations; two other executives; and Petit's personal assistant, he said.
The workers did not want to harm the Caterpillar executives but instead wanted to get them to negotiate, Benoit told CNN.
The employees being held in their office are being allowed to get food, Benoit added.
Workers took the executives hostage Tuesday morning because they were angry Caterpillar had proposed cutting more than 700 jobs at the plant and would not negotiate with the crestfallen workers, said Benoit.
There were also about 500 employees outside the building protesting.
Caterpillar maintains it has been meeting with the workers’ union, the Works Council, for weeks to discuss how the company has been impacted by the global economic crisis and steps the company is taking to try to maintain competitive in the global market.
“The best way to resolve this matter is to continue the negotiations through the Works Council to find a solution that's fair to our employees and allows Caterpillar to remain a leader in a rapidly changing global marketplace,” said Schena.
The incident at the Caterpillar plant is at least the third time this month that French workers threatened with cutbacks have blockaded managers in their offices to demand negotiations. Executives were released unharmed in both previous situations.
Employees at a French 3M factory held a manager hostage for more than 24 hours Wednesday and Thursday of last week over a dispute about terms for laid-off staff. Luc Rousselet, who was unharmed, was allowed to leave the plant in Pithiviers, central France, early on Thursday morning after talks between unions and officials from 3M France. Earlier this month, the boss of Sony France was held overnight before workers freed him after he agreed to reopen talks on compensation when the factory closed.
Caterpillar executives were hopeful Tuesday’s incident would also be resolved in a peaceful fashion.
In his statement, Schena, the Caterpillar vice president said, “We remain concerned for the safety of our employees and the community and are thankful that no injuries to any employees have been reported as a result of this action.”