When the head of a major U.S. tire manufacturer mocked French factory workers as lazy, French officialdom fired back in an angry huff. But a look at actual statistics comparing U.S. and French manufacturing worker productivity tends to support the CEO’s criticism.
The incident started when the France government approached Maurice Taylor, head of Titan International Inc. (NYSE:TWI), about investing in a strike-prone Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (Nasdaq:GT) plant to keep it from being shuttered.
Talks over the last five years with unions at the plant had not produced cost savings, and last month Goodyear said it will close the plant, which employs 1,173 people.
Taylor visited the plant, assessed its prospects and sent off a stinging letter to French Industry Minister Arnaud Montbourg, which was published in Wednesday’s edition of the French daily Les Echos.
“How stupid do you think we are?” Taylor’s letter to Montbourg asks.
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“I have visited that factory a couple of times. 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 to their faces. They told me that’s the French way!
"Titan is going to buy a Chinese tire company or an Indian one, pay less than one euro per hour wage and ship all the tires France needs," Taylor said. "You can keep the so-called workers."
Taylor's slam on workers may be hyperbole, but his impression has a basis in empirical fact, at least according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which calculates manufacturing worker productivity for a number of countries.
Since 2003, U.S. workers’ output per hour has topped the output per hour of French workers. In 2011, the last year for which the BLS has published statistics, French workers produced about 80 percent of what their American counterparts produced.
American workers top their French counterparts in output per employed person. In 2011 the output per employed French worker was 78 percent of his or her American counterpart, according to the BLS.
And in overall output in 2011, French workers produced 82 percent of what American workers produced overall.
But before Americans thump their tubs too loudly, it should be noted that BLS data doesn't result in American manufacturing workers emerging as the world's most productive, at least as of 2011. That title, goes to workers in the Czech Republic, with Korea coming in second place. At the bottom of the BLS list is Canada, followed closely by Italy and Denmark. The results may reflect capital investment, which can boost a manufacturing worker's productivity -- no matter how lazy or diligent that worker is.