WORKERS AT VERSACE FLAGSHIP STRIKE AFTER MANAGER IS LAID OFF

PARIS — Worker discontent spilled into an unlikely venue here, as sales staff at the Gianni Versace flagship staged a snap strike Friday to protest the dismissal of the shop manager.
Dressed in Versace black from head to toe, 14 salespeople waved makeshift banners and handed out photocopied fliers to well-heeled ladies strolling down the usually staid Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honore, a major Parisian shopping street.
The scene was in stark contrast to many of the city’s widespread job protests, which usually include transit workers in scruffy jeans and T-shirts. Instead, curious women, some clutching Gucci or Hermes shopping bags, gathered to chat with the staff, many of whom they knew by name.
“We’ve had just about enough and we want to show the company that we’re united behind Edith [Hernandez, the former manager],” explained Jean-Francois Cebenrio, the shop’s personnel delegate who organized the strike.
Under Hernandez, sales had improved, and the sales team had been happy, according to Cebenrio. “Edith made us want to work. Malingering was rare.”
A Gianni Versace spokesman, reached in Milan, declined to comment.
Despite the protest, Versace remained open for business, albeit at a slower pace. Two salespeople who refused to participate in the strike were the only staff in the cavernous two-level shop.
According to Hernandez, who joined Versace six months ago after more than two years as manager of the Sonia Rykiel boutique here, she was not given a full contract after her six-month trial period — a standard job practice in France — ended this week.
“The reason for my termination isn’t clear,” said Hernandez, adding that Versace was acting within the law not to renew her contract.
“Versace works in an Italian way, and by going on strike, the sales staff is showing that they work in a French way,” she said.
“The strike is for several reasons,” said Cebenrio. “Edith’s dismissal is only the tip of the iceberg. We’re also fed up with our working conditions. All of the employees live with perpetual psychological pressure [to work harder]. Under Edith, the situation had improved.”
Cebenrio, who has been at the store for 10 years, added the staff was prepared to prolong the strike.
“We want to be listened to and we want Edith to be brought back on board. We’ll strike until that happens.”
Also at issue, Cebenrio said, was the implementation of the 35-hour work week, a controversial job-creation initiative backed by the Socialist government.
“We’ve been wrangling over that issue for over a year now,” explained Cebenrio. “Versace is dragging its feet, and we want to see some action. We’re not peons. We’re human beings who are looking for respect. Edith, who’s done a great job and united our team, also deserves respect.”
Strikes are rampant in France, especially recently, as executives and workers clash over how to restructure in the wake of the 35-hour plan, which was implemented this year and shaves four hours off of the work week.

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