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Court Battle Ready for Pinault, YSL Workers

PARIS — A June 11 court date has been set in the showdown between the workers’ committee at Yves Saint Laurent couture and François Pinault. <P>This week, Pinault issued a statement saying he would take legal action against the...

PARIS — A June 11 court date has been set in the showdown between the workers’ committee at Yves Saint Laurent couture and François Pinault.

This week, Pinault issued a statement saying he would take legal action against the workers’ committee, which has stymied a plan to sell the retiring designer’s atelier to French industrialist Patrice Bouygues.

As reported, Pinault’s family holding company, Artemis, agreed in March to sell the couture operation, without the YSL name, to Bouygues for a symbolic euro, or about 93 cents. Pinault, who controls retailer Pinault-Printemps-Redoute and Italy’s Gucci Group, had funded the money-losing couture operation since 1999, when he also acquired YSL ready-to-wear and then sold it to Gucci.

Bouygues’ plan is to remake the YSL atelier on Avenue Marceau here into a multibrand operation. But last month, the 10-member workers’ committee told WWD it would block the proposal, saying Bouygues’ plan to save the 150 jobs was unclear.

In a statement, Artemis said the transfer has been “paralyzed” by the committee’s filibuster. Initially, it was to be completed by July 31, when Saint Laurent will have filled his last couture orders. But under French labor legislation, a workers’ committee has to give its opinion on a takeover — even if it ultimately cannot block the transaction.

Artemis called the logjam “abusive” and “perilous,” warning: “This could lead to the job loss of the totality of the workers.”

Responding to the charges, the workers’ committee issued a statement alleging Artemis was acting out of its own interests and not those of the workers. It said that consultations between the workers’ committee and Bouygues were not “extraordinarily long for a subject as complex and important for the future of the workers concerned.” Negotiations between Bouygues and the workers committee began March 18.

Meanwhile, the committee cited “inconsistencies” in Bouygues’ proposal and pointed to allegations, denied by Bouygues, that the industrialist in March unloaded a bankrupt rtw manufacturer, Nosocoba, before agreeing to buy Saint Laurent’s atelier.