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Eiffel Tower Strike Tied to Paint Concerns

Thursday, December 15, 2016

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An upcoming paint job appears to be at the center of a strike that has kept the landmark Eiffel Tower closed to the public for two days.

Workers represented by the CGT and FO unions are striking for the third time this year, reportedly over a lack of transparency and unmet demands, especially in relation to a recoating job scheduled for 2017. The last paint job took place in 2009.

Past Lead Concerns

Union representatives told French media outlets that paint stripping ahead of the 2017 recoating job was a safety concern, and said that the planning process was not sufficiently transparent. According to Agence France-Presse, SETE, the company that oversees the tower, was fined 18,750 Euros ($19,931) over a failure to protect workers from lead during a 2012 renovation at the historic site.

Eiffel Tower
By User:MarkGGN. Uploaded by - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Approximately every seven years, a team of 25 workers coats the tower in “Eiffel Tower Brown” using hand tools.

Union CGT said that the upcoming paint stripping would be “unprecedented in scale” and alleged that management has not consulted with workers enough about the job.

SETE officials confirmed to reporters that the closure of the tower on Tuesday and Wednesday (Dec. 13 and 14) was due to a labor dispute and that negotiations were ongoing. The tower’s official website featured an alert Wednesday that simply read, “Due to a social movement, the Eiffel Tower will remain closed today.”

Unions and SETE have reportedly also clashed over worker demands regarding pay raises and new hires.

Painted Every Seven Years

The Eiffel Tower was built for the 1889 World’s Fair, and has been repainted 18 times since its initial construction, according to the tower’s website. The 1,063-foot-tall tower is made of wrought iron, which must be recoated regularly to prevent corrosion. The job is generally done once every seven years.

SETE explains via its website that each recoating job takes a team of 25 painters about 18 months to complete. The workers coat the tower in “Eiffel Tower Brown” using hand tools.

Eiffel Tower ironwork
By Maximillian Puhane, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The 1,063-foot-tall tower is made of wrought iron, which must be recoated regularly to prevent corrosion.

Prior to the 2002 recoat, the monument had been coated with lead paint. According to SETE, the lead pigments were replaced with a zinc phosphate anticorrosion agent. During the 2009 painting campaign, the crew experimented with low-VOC coatings in anticipation of tightened environmental standards.

During preparation for a repainting job, SETE says, the tower is inspected for sites of notable corrosion—usually about 5 percent of the total surface of the building—which are given special attention in the form of paint stripping and extra coats of anti-rust primer. The rest of the building is traditionally high-pressure steam-cleaned, then given two coats of paint.

Previous Recoating

When the tower was last painted, in 2009, some took note of the fact that the crew on the job were all Greek and Romanian nationals.

"We didn't investigate the nationalities of the people who are working here, nor did we discriminate," Jean-Bernard Bros, president of SETE, said at a news conference, as reported by USA Today. "We did not ask about their passports or their nationality. These are working people. They're paid for their work."


Tagged categories: Corrosion protection; Europe; Labor; Lead; Monuments; Program/Project Management; Zinc

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