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Paris Olympics medals production hit by strikes and protests

“Production of the medals is not blocked,” said the French national mint.
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Already set with pieces of the Eiffel Tower, the medals for this summer’s Paris Olympics will now be infused with another quintessential feature of French life: strike action.

Dozens of workers at the French national mint, which is making the medals, are demanding the same “Olympics bonus” being paid to police officers and other government employees.

On Monday, around 50 workers demonstrated outside the mint and claimed that they had been able to disrupt medal production ahead of the Games, which start July 26.

“Stop the contempt!” the General Confederation of Labour union, or GCT, posted on X. “In this context of inflation, there is an urgent need to increase wages!”

The mint denied that production was affected for the roughly 5,000 gold, silver and bronze medals — each containing an 18-gram hexagonal piece of iron taken from the Eiffel Tower.

“Production of the medals is not blocked,” it said in a statement to NBC News. “All of the medals have been minted and we are at the finishing stage. We will deliver on schedule and on time.”

It said 2% of its 430 workers were on strike Friday, falling to less than 0.5% by Tuesday, amounting to just two workers. Those demonstrating outside the mint had mostly done so on their break time, it said.

Not only will the medals be partly made of metal taken from the Eiffel Tower, organizers announced Tuesday; the landmark itself will be adorned by a 95 foot-long, 49 foot-high structure of the Olympic rings, made with French steel.

But officials will hope that this expression of union unrest is not a sign of things to come this summer.

The French are famously unafraid of strikes and direct action, from the “Gilet Jaune” movement to the farmers currently spraying government buildings with manure.

And the timing of the Olympics makes the event something of a double-edged sword.

Many Parisians will be out of town, easing the burden on the city’s antiquated transportation system during an event expected to attract 10 million visitors. But it also cuts right through France’s annual hallowed period of national vacation.

In a bid to stave off strikes, the government has offered state workers bonuses of 500 to 1,500 euros for their efforts (around $530-$1,630). But that has not eliminated the possibility of industrial action altogether.

The GCT has already filed notices with the government that transportation and medical workers could stage walkouts and warned that more could follow.

Meanwhile, officials are grappling with the security headache presented by Paris 2024’s unique opening ceremony. According to current plans, the Games will begin with a 10,000-athlete, 90-boat flotilla down the river Seine — the first time the inaugural part will happen outside of a single venue.

Another concern is the cleanliness of the river itself, which is scheduled to be used for the marathon swimming and the triathlon.

Authorities have already spent 1.4 billion euros trying to clean up the famously dirty water, in which it has been illegal to swim for 100 years. But French charity the Surfrider Foundation said Monday that its tests had found often double and sometimes triple the permitted level of harmful bacteria in the river.