Eiffel Tower Is Closed for 4th Day as Its Workers Strike

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Anthony Aranda, a 23-year-old tourist from Peru, had only two days to visit Paris with his cousin, so getting to the top of the Eiffel Tower featured prominently on his to-do list. But on Thursday, he had to cross it off that list without even stepping foot on the famed Iron Lady.

A labor strike, now in its fourth day, was keeping the tower closed.

“We are traveling to London next, so this was our last chance,” Mr. Aranda said in the drizzling rain as he looked up at the wrought-iron monument. “That was the idea, at least.”

Mr. Aranda, who is studying electronic engineering in Spain, said he would get over the disappointment.

But in Paris, just months before the city is to host the Summer Olympics and Paralympics, there are worries that the strike could turn into a protracted and highly visible labor dispute at one of the French capital’s most visited monuments. The site is so symbolic, in fact, that medals created for the Games will be encrusted with iron from the tower itself.

“It’s the image of France,” Olivia Grégoire, France’s minister in charge of tourism, told Sud Radio.

Unions representing the strikers say that financial mismanagement at the Société d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, or SETE, the company that operates the monument, is jeopardizing essential renovation work. The unionized workers have threatened to continue their walkout as long as necessary.

The tower operator rejected the allegations.

“The years 2020 to 2023, from Covid to its lasting consequences, were difficult for the Eiffel Tower and its employees, and have left concerns for the future,” Jean-François Martins, the president of the SETE, acknowledged in a statement.

The company lost 130 million euros, about $140 million, of revenue during the pandemic. In 2021, the city even injected 60 million euros to keep it afloat.

But Mr. Martins said that a new financial plan, including a fresh 145 million euros in investment, would keep the Eiffel Tower in shape over the next few years. The new plan, he said, “will provide lasting protection for the monument, its employees and SETE until 2031.”

The plan, which still needs to be approved by the Paris City Council in the coming months, would pay for much of that investment with a 20 percent increase in standard ticket prices, the statement said. Adults currently pay nearly $32 to reach the top of the Eiffel Tower by elevator, although visitors who brave the stairs pay less.

Paris City Hall also rejected accusations of neglect and expressed confidence that the labor dispute would not stretch indefinitely.

“I have no particular worries about strikes during the Olympic Games,” Emmanuel Grégoire, Paris’s deputy mayor, told the broadcaster Franceinfo on Wednesday. “The city supports the Eiffel Tower — it’s its jewel.”

Topping out at 1,083 feet — about three-quarters of the height of the Empire State Building, including its spire — the tower attracts nearly seven million tourists a year.

On Thursday morning, few were to be seen. Visitors with tickets purchased online were emailed about the closure and reimbursed; the gloomy weather seemed to keep many others away. The few who remained quickly snapped photos on their way to attractions like the Louvre Museum.

“It’s very beautiful,” Barkin Gursoy, a 24-year-old lawyer visiting from Istanbul, said of the tower. “Even nicer in the rain.”

But labor unions say that beauty is under threat. They had already staged a walkout in December, on the 100th anniversary of the death of Gustave Eiffel, the civil engineer whose company designed and built the monument.

The city of Paris owns the Eiffel Tower and is a majority shareholder in the operator, SETE, which employs about 360 people. Under an agreement now being reviewed, the company pays a yearly fee to the city: It paid €8 million in 2021 in royalties and nearly €16 million in 2022.

Unions say that the city is now asking for far more — up to €50 million per year, some worried publicly — which they fear will throttle the operator’s ability to maintain the Eiffel Tower. The monument’s nearly 2.7 million square feet need to be regularly stripped of old paint and given a fresh coat to prevent rust and other forms of corrosion.

On Thursday, more than 50 striking workers chanted slogans and waved union flags and signs at the foot of the Eiffel Tower. One banner portrayed Mayor Anne Hidalgo milking the monument and accused her of using it as a “cash cow.”

Nada Bzioui, a representative of the Force Ouvrière union for Eiffel Tower workers, said at the site that the latest painting campaign, which started in 2019, was over budget and limited so far to the tower’s external-facing parts.

She said unions were not against paying the city a fee, but wanted more financial breathing room. She also questioned the company’s continued ability to pay for maintenance costs and worker salaries.

“It’s a national monument,” Ms. Bzioui said. “We can’t let it decay like that.”

The tower operator rejected accusations that the city had grown greedy, saying that under the new plan, the city’s royalties would be calculated differently — including by lowering them in years when renovation costs soared — meaning that, on average, the company would end up paying the city roughly 31 to 34 million euros per year.

The operator also acknowledged that painting had been delayed — by the pandemic, by the discovery of lead in the old coating, and by the overall complexities of renovating, often by night, a 135-year-old attraction that is open year-round.

But it denied that the monument was in disrepair.

Few of these technical complexities and financial intricacies had filtered down to the handful of tourists who watched from a distance on Thursday as the workers protested.

But most were understanding.

“We were hoping to visit, but it’s OK, we can take pictures,” said Mariana Pedrosa Ramos Pinto, 43, a teacher from southern Brazil who was in Paris with her husband for their 15th wedding anniversary. “It was more to appreciate it from the outside.”

After all, the couple noted as it sheltered under an umbrella, Brazil’s president is a former union leader. And many visitors already see France as a country where strikes are as common as baguettes.

“We weren’t expecting to climb up,” Ms. Ramos Pinto said, adding of the protest, “We were expecting something like this.”

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