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Thursday
Feb212013

US CEO Defends Criticism of French Workers

FRANCOIS LO PRESTI/AFP/Getty Images(QUINCY, Ill.) -- Maurice Taylor, CEO of Titan International Inc., made headlines when he declined to invest in a struggling French factory because its “so-called workers” get high wages for working three-hour days. On Thursday he defended his statement but questioned why the French government would release his remarks in the first place.

Taylor, chairman and chief executive of tire company Titan, based in Quincy, Ill., wrote a letter to French Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg, declining to buy a Goodyear tire factory that is being closed in Amiens, France.

“They’re very sensitive — the people in government in France,” Taylor told ABC News on Thursday. “Maybe they should not wear briefs and use boxer shorts instead.”

Taylor questions why Montebourg released Taylor’s letter that was in response to a query about the factory in Amiens.

“Politicians do things for political gain. He was hoping I would be the bad, bad American and it’s the French who stand up,” Taylor said. "He forgot or didn’t check that we’ve had a factory in France for years,” Taylor said. “The French workers there do a great job. The problem they have is that Goodyear plant.”

“I have visited the factory several times,” Taylor wrote in the letter, as reported by Bloomberg. “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!”

Taylor said when he met with the union leaders, he told them he would not cut their wages but expected them to work six hours with a one-hour lunch and break.

“I don’t cut wages, but I take over. I’m a plant guy. We’re $2.5 billion company and we’re growing. Even Michelin’s wheel business, we own it. When everybody else fails, we step in and build it. We empower our employees. That’s what we do,” Taylor said.

According to Titan’s website, “Taylor was nicknamed “The Grizz” by Wall Street analysts for his tough negotiating style.”  He ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996.

“The workers of Goodyear would have considered themselves insulted had the author of the letter been someone credible,” the General Confederation of Labor, or, CGT union, said in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg from Wednesday.

Joblessness in France is at a 15-year high and the closing of the plant means the loss of another 1,173 jobs.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio