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French CAT Workers Weigh Layoff Deal

Workers for the U.S. manufacturer considering government-brokered deal meant to end a standoff over layoffs that have prompted employees to take their bosses hostage.

GRENOBLE, France (AP) -- French workers for U.S. manufacturer Caterpillar Inc. were considering a government-brokered deal Monday meant to end a standoff with management over layoffs that have prompted employees to take their bosses hostage and stage protracted protests.

The Caterpillar protests are part of a wave of radical actions taken by workers recently across France, as companies shed jobs by the thousands amid a severe recession.

Dozens of workers partially blocked the company work site in the French Alps last week, camping out in tents in their latest effort to demand better layoff conditions. The job cuts are among thousands slated at plants run by Peoria, Illinois-based Caterpillar worldwide.

Union leaders and Caterpillar France officials overseen by an aide to French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde hammered out a deal ending the conflict late Sunday night, after eight hours of negotiations.

It is now up to the workers at Caterpillar's two French plants in the Alps to approve the plan. Workers were holding a meeting Monday on the deal and were expected to vote on it Wednesday.

Under the accord, the company agreed to lower the number of layoffs to 600 from the 733 originally planned, and drop disciplinary proceedings against eight strikers, Nicolas Benoit of the CGT union said.

Last month, Caterpillar workers held four managers hostage for more than 24 hours to get their complaints heard, but no legal action was taken against them.

All 2,700 workers at the sites in Grenoble and the Grenoble suburb Echirolles have been put on so-called short-time contracts since December, intended to cut workers' hours and avoid larger-scale layoffs. Workers are usually paid for the hours they don't work, but at a reduced rate.

Some 400 workers returned to full-time work Monday, and another 1,600 are scheduled to come back this week.

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