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France Struggles to Balance Workload on Sundays

LIANE HANSEN, Host:

Eleanor Beardsley sends this report from Paris.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: While the Champs-Elysees is crawling with tourists this time of year, shoppers who show up this Sunday will find Luis Vuitton closed. Vuitton could be forced to shut its doors permanently on Sundays, after being sued by several French unions. Francoise Nicoletta(ph) is a member of the union Force Ouvriere.

FRANCOISE NICOLETTA: (Through translator) Louis Vuitton opens totally illegally on the Champs-Elysees. In France, you can only open on Sunday if your operation is related to culture, and handbags are not culture.

BEARDSLEY: While business advocates say such arcane laws are absurd in a country where the unemployment rate hovers around 10 percent, Nicoletta says forcing all retailers to close Sundays levels the playing field.

NICOLETTA: (Through translator) For a small business owner who maybe has two employees, it's impossible to open seven days a week. So he'll eventually go out of business and then there'll be three more unemployed people.

BEARDSLEY: Louis Vuitton, which is appealing the court ruling, has won a temporary reprieve. Its store will be allowed to open Sundays from next weekend, at least until the appeal is heard. The company declined a request for an interview, but Jean Patrick Grumberg(ph), president of a business coalition called Let Us Work, says the law must be modified.

JEAN PATRICK GRUMBERG: It's the perfect stupid case where a store should not be closed on Sunday. It's on Champs-Elysees. I believe Champs-Elysees is the one most visited street, avenue in the world. It's a tourist area. And tourists don't understand that Vuitton, who represents France, and Champs-Elysees who represents France, would be closed on Sunday.

BEARDSLEY: The battle between the high-end retailer and labor unions has highlighted French debates about the balance of work and family life and the relation between labor flexibility and unemployment. And while the Internet and a younger workforce are chipping away at traditional work and leisure habits, most French people still favor a weekly day of rest, says Jean-Daniel Levy, with the CSA Polling Institute.

PATRICK GRUMBERG: (Through translator) For the most part, people still feel that stores should be closed on Sunday. They think that there should be a day set aside for family and personal time and that this should be the same day for everyone. People don't want cities that are open 24 hours a day.

BEARDSLEY: For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley, in Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.