Employee strike will shut some Okinawa AAFES stores on Friday
Members of the union that represents Japanese AAFES employees protest May 18, 2012, to demand that the exchanges scrap a plan to limit workers over age 60 to 30 hours a week. The union plans a strike for July 13 that will force some AAFES facilities on Okinawa to close or reduce operating hours.
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Japanese labor union for U.S. Forces in Japan will go on a 24-hour strike Friday on Okinawa in a dispute over a new policy that forces Japanese hires to drop to part-time hours once they reach age 60.
The strike will force some Army and Air Force Exchange Service facilities to close or reduce operating hours Friday. AAFES asked servicemembers and their families to monitor AFN for status reports.
AAFES’ new policy, effective this month, currently affects 38 employees — 33 on Okinawa and five on the mainland, according to Sgt. 1st Class Jon Cupp, spokesman for the AAFES headquarters on Okinawa. At age 60, employees will drop from full time to 30 hours a week.
Japan’s Ministry of Defense, which pays the Japanese employees, said it has asked AAFES to rescind the decision, according to a spokesman for the ministry’s Okinawa Defense bureau.
The All Japan Garrison Forces Labor Union claimed the unilateral action would eventually threaten job security for all 2,200 Japanese AAFES employees, as well as those who work for Marine Corps Community Services and the Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs of all service branches.
Cupp said AAFES implemented the policy in response to budget cuts in the Host Nation Support Program, under which the Japanese government pays management costs for the U.S. military installations in the country, including salaries, utilities and base maintenance.
When the host nation support program was renewed last year, both governments agreed to maintain the new funding levels for the next five years but also decided to cut about 2 percent of the Japanese work force. Over the next five years, 430 of the 23,055 jobs that Japan funds are to be eliminated.
The reduction in hours is part of AAFES’ effort to minimize the impact of the budget cut, Cupp said.
“This prevents the complete dismissal of numerous employees,” Cupp said in an e-mail reply to Stars and Stripes queries.
Satohiro Konya, director-general of the labor union, known as Zenchuro, said the change gave no consideration to employees’ financial circumstances.
Japanese law requires employers to keep workers over the age of 60, with a 30 percent salary cut, until they become eligible to collect full pensions at 65, as long as they are capable of handling their jobs.
“On top of the one-third salary cut, cutting down their work hours is a fatal blow,” Konya said.
The union planned to set up picket lines at major military installations on Okinawa, including Kadena Air Base, Camp Foster and Camp Kinser, with a rally planned for in front of Camp Foster, site of AAFES’ Okinawa headquarters.