Strike shuts down the Eiffel Tower as workers protest monument's management

The unions claim the city is underestimating maintenance costs.

February 19, 2024, 5:56 PM

Tourists looking to explore Paris' most famous landmark were turned away from the Eiffel Tower on Monday as workers went on strike over what they contend is mismanagement that could jeopardize the 135-year-old monument as the city prepares to host the summer Olympic Games.

Visitors to the wrought-iron lattice tower on the Champ de Mars were greeted Monday morning with "closed signs" at the base of the structure and tower's website.

“Some already knew [about] it and came just to confirm,” said Marthe, a temp worker posted at one of the tower’s entrances to greet the visitors. "They were disappointed but I didn’t have any particularly bad interactions."

The strike could go on for several days, according to union officials.

Brianna, an American tourist, who was visiting Paris and the landmark for the first time, told ABC News she didn’t know anything about the strike, but was happy to still be able to take pictures at the tower with her friends.

While some tourists said they enjoyed finding the Eiffel Tower area basically empty, others were not pleased.

“That’s not OK,” the father of a visiting Dutch family told ABC News, “because you have to book upfront and if you want to go up there, it’s 30 euros and it’s quite some money if you have a family. So I think tourists shouldn’t be involved in their problem.”

A street vendor packing up his miniature towers and keychains said he is expecting to lose about 400 euros or about $431 if the tower remains closed all week.

Monday's protest marks the second time in two months that workers have shut down the landmark that draws an estimated 20,000 visitors per day.

Labor union officials claim that Paris City Hall, which owns 99% of the Eiffel Tower operator, SETE, is relying on an “unsustainable” business model that overestimates ticket sales to the monument and underestimates the cost of maintenance and repairs.

The unions said they also oppose an increase in the usage fee owed by SETE to the city of Paris, calling it "not acceptable."

“We are not asking to completely eliminate the fee. We know full well that we must give a usage fee to the city of Paris. We have always played the game," an official for one of two labor unions representing workers told ABC News.

The unions that represents 400 Eiffel Tower workers contend that the city's current maintenance plan for the tower works to the detriment of visitors, puts a heavier workload on employees and risks their safety.

The union representative who spoke to ABC News denounced what he described as a “DIY” approach the city of Paris allegedly has towards the work needed for the monument to function properly.

“Instead of completely redoing things, to refurbish an elevator or something else, we try to do small maintenance just to last over time but we see very clearly that our installations are aging and obsolete, and that we sometimes have to completely change the machine or completely review certain systems," the union representative said. "But they seek to reduce costs and invest to a minimum."

The workers also fear that job cuts are also on the horizon, according to the union representative, who said he received the news of planned layoffs during a meeting with management last week.

"We fear for our jobs, that's why we say stop,” he said. "We are not supposed to be the expendable parts, the same goes for the works and the investments."

The labor action comes as Paris prepares to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, which are scheduled to begin on July 26 and feature pieces of the Eiffel Tower in the medals that will be handed out during the games.

SETE claims the tower's maintenance budget is based on an estimate that the monument will draw 7.4 million visitors this year, a figure the union says has never been achieved. The tower, according to union leaders, usually welcomes about 6 million visitors a year.

A similar strike shut down the Eiffel Tower on Dec. 27, the day that marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Gustave Eiffel, the French engineer whose company designed and built the tower for the 1889 Universal Exposition in Paris. That strike occurred as union members were also negotiating a new labor contract with the city.

Union officials are urging the city to review the maintenance budget for the tower.

In a statement released in December, the union predicted that under the city's current budget, the tower could be closed during the Olympic Games due to a financial shortfall in maintenance costs.